Culture, Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

School Unit Videos

The school unit in Spanish 1 offers tons of opportunities for incorporating culture and making cultural comparisons. I made a playlist of videos around the topic of school that I’ve been using with my Spanish 1 students. Here’s some ideas for how you can use them:

  1. Movie talk the What a Classroom Looks like, School Lunches, or School Uniforms videos. Ask simple questions: ¿Qué es esto? ¿Cuántos años tiene? ¿Quién es el profesor? ¿De qué color es? ¿Tienen mucho dinero o poco dinero?
  2. Use as a warm up or closing activity. Watch and discuss what you see. Have students write down thoughts, or ask a guiding question before watching – what is simliar/what is different? What surprises you? What questions do you have?
  3. Examine bias. This is a great cross-curricular connection. Who made this video? Why did they make it? Are they biased or neutral? Remind them that even if they spot bias, they can still learn something about life/school in that country.

I’m also loving the music video for “La Magia” by Little Jesus. Kara Jacobs shared a wealth of resources on her blog, including a story based on the music video. I recommend that you read the story before watching the video!

For more ideas for the school unit, here are all my school unit posts. What are your favorite school unit resources? What videos should I add to my playlist?

Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Mi día en la escuela: Comparing Class Schedules

Adobe Spark (5)

My students are currently learning school vocabulary, and my authentic resource activities were in desperate need of an update. I decided I wanted my students to do an activity comparing schedules of schools in Spanish speaking countries and their own (find my activity at the bottom of this post!). I asked one of my teacher groups on facebook if anyone had such an activity to share, and someone from my grad program shared this gem of a website with me:

school schedules in Spanish

If you click on the gallery link in the right hand corner, you will find 15 school schedules from various Spanish speaking countries, compiled by one of the Auburn foreign language education graduate assistants. ¡Muchas gracias, amiga!

I decided that rather than trying to print out the schedules, I would have students view them on their computer. For pre-reading, I had students discuss their ideal school schedule in  small groups, with a list of questions in Spanish to guide them:

discussion questions

After group discussions, we briefly shared out to the whole class. Next, I had students draw a number from 1-15. They were not allowed to have the same number as someone else in  their group. The number corresponded to one of the schedules on the Wix site. For their “during reading” activity, students answered questions about their assigned schedule. For post-reading, they discussed what they learned with their group and answered some reflection questions: How were the schedules similar or different from their own school schedule? What schedule would they like best? I also had students write questions down on sticky notes. I took these up and answered them at the end of class as a closing activity:



If you would like to use my activity, you can find it here. If you improve on it, please share it back with me!

Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela, Teaching Reflections

Sometimes things are hard

I am having a week where everything feels hard (and it’s only Tuesday). Deciding what activities to do, planning enough for our 90-minute block schedule, and just sitting down to tackle the pile of grading has gotten really hard. And then there’s the elephant in the room: straddling the moat between grammar-driven and proficiency models of curriculum is really hard. I keep finding myself asking, Why am I even doing this?

(Note: I wrote that paragraph a week ago. It’s Tuesday again, and things are still hard.)

I’ve begun teaching conjugation this week. I know direct grammar instruction is out of style, but I have reasons (departmental colleagues who will teach many of my babies in Spanish 2 and  3), so I’m going to write about how I’m trying to teach grammar better – specifically those conjugations and verb paradigms they will NEED to have mastered to be successful in Spanish 2 at my school.

Step 1: Preview 3rd person singular and plural forms with Soy yo.

Have you seen this video? I love this song so much!

I also love every resource Kara Jacobs has ever published, and her Soy yo activities are no exception. At the link above, she has activities centered around the story of the video: The girl likes her hair. She rides a bike. The  two mean girls don’t like her. The girl plays her flute. The mean girls don’t like the music and leave. The girl dances. The girl enters a basketball court. She steals the ball and plays. The boys look at her. The girl leaves. The girl sees boys who are dancing. The girl looks at the boys. The boys look at the girl. The girl dances. The girl leaves with her father.

This story came at a great time for me – finishing up Me gusta + Infinitives, so the vocab and reps of le gusta/les gusta was perfect. What was also perfect was how this song gave a great opportunity to preview 3rd person singular and plural verb forms. La chica juega or juegan al básquetbol? Insert pop-up grammar about how makes a verb plural.

Step 2: Teach conjugations, but not the whole paradigm at once, keep it visual, and save pronouns for later

My grad school professor, Dr. Barry, taught us the Lee and VanPatten method: teach grammar through comprehensible input, and only teach 1 concept at a time. By one concept, she mean just 3rd person singular verb forms, not all six boxes on the present tense chart. I felt like they could handle more, so we’ve been working mostly on 3rd person singular and plural forms, as well as a little bit of 1st person singular. For the Realidades readers, I’m teaching the vocabulary in chapter 2B – things in the classroom and prepositions of location with the verb estar. Almost everything we practice with is visual, either based on a picture or our own classroom. I’m asking questions like, El reloj está o están? Los libros está o están? The singularity or plurality of the subject is something visual, not just an s at the end o the word on paper they have to imagine. So we transfer from there to talking about los chicos, las chicas, los estudiantes, la profesora. We are using a few forms of estar, as well as some of those What do you like to do? verbs from the chapter 1a vocabulary.

In the past, I have taught conjugations with pronouns (yo, tú, él, ella, etc) and then sprinkled nouns and proper nouns later. Some students got it, some were totally thrown off. I would also always start with people as subjects, and kids would be totally confused when they got a sentence in chapter three like Las uvas ____ buenas. So I decided to start teaching verb forms with nouns first, and then add in the pronouns when they were comfortable talking about las banderas, el reloj, la profesora, mi amigo.

Step 3: Sprinkle in some pronouns once they’ve got the singular/plural thing down. Keep it visual.

My students have seen most of the singular pronouns already in various activities and readings. So we started with a matching activity I printed off from Quizlet. I wanted to see how much they could figure out on their own, and also see if they could make the jump from Usted to Ustedes and from ella to ellas. They did pretty well, and we went over it afterwards and talked about the pictures (talking TO someone vs. talking ABOUT them). Next, still keeping my focus on 3rd person verb forms, we did this page in our notebook:

Left side is one person doing the action, right side is multiple people.



First, we labeled each picture to the side with él, ella, ellos, or ellas. Then, I gave them an infinitive bank and asked them to to label each picture with the correct form of the verb. I was really impressed with how many students got the juega and duerme forms correct – they have seen it enough times in class (especially juega from the Soy yo activities), and they just knew it without needing an explanation about stem changers and boot verbs.

Step 4: Continue to practice, and add in the rest of the forms slowly, visually, and in context. Give lots and lots of input.

I really don’t like teaching conjugation explicitly, as it necessitates so much time spent on grammar explanations in English (NOT engaging) and so often still results in frustrated and confused students. I am quite happy with how my students are doing so far with these re-paced lesson plans.In the next week or so, I want to figure out some more stories to tell my students to model and contextualize the remaining forms (2nd person and 1st person plural). I’m not super comfortable with storytelling or TPRS, so this is hard for me, but I think a bit of teacher-led input/storytelling along with lots of supported reading input will be a big step forward.

I’m not as good as I want to be yet. But I´m better than I used to be. 


Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Talking about our [fake] schedules

In Spanish 1, I’m currently teaching the school unit (Realidades 1 Chapter 2a) My school switched to block schedule this year, so with my students only having four classes, my usual context for practicing ordinal numbers no longer works. So, today we made fake schedules and talked about them.

Step 1: Make fake schedules

schedule template

I printed out my class vocabulary and electives list from Quizlet as flashcards and divided them into 8 buckets (my students currently sit in groups of 4). Students drew a class from the bucket and wrote it into their schedule, and added a teacher.

Fake schedule template here.

Step 2: Discuss

2015-09-16 10.30.21

I gave students a list of questions and put on an interval timer. Each group picked a leader who asked questions from the list. When the timer beeped, they rotated leaders. After a few minutes, I took over the questioning (to the whole class). I projected Class Dojo on the board and had a student use the interactive pen to assign points (doing this on the projector works GREAT because the other students make sure the score keeper is accurate).

Step 3: Repeat

I was pleased with the participation in this activity, but some of the pronunciation was not so good – not surprisingly because we haven’t worked extensively on these questions yet. So I typed up the questions in Quizlet. Tomorrow, I’m going to get someone in each group to pull up the Quizlet set on their phone or tablet (or lend them my laptop or let them sit at my desk if no one in the group has a device). We’ll shuffle the questions, and let Quizlet ask the questions instead of the students! Next semester, I’ll have Quizlet ask the questions on day 1 and let students as the questions on day 2.

If you want a word document of my questions, here is the link.  I wrote 42 questions because that’s how many blocks are in my $3 Jenga knock-off “Jumbling Towers,” so the list can do double duty if we do stations this unit.

PS – My kiddos are ROCKING the groups of 4. I love it.

2015-09-16 10.30.12

Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela, Teaching Reflections

Assessment: What makes a good quiz?

Assessment is a constantly evolving process for me. It is important to me to give assessments that give me meaningful information about what my students can understand and communicate in Spanish.  My framework for a valid assessment has changed each year, and I’m still researching, experimenting, looking at other teachers’ examples, and generally trying to figure things out.

So here’s my question: What kind of assessment makes a valid quiz grade?

Admin mandates that tests are weighted 60% and quizzes are weighted 20% (the other 20% is homework and daily work), and also that each department give common assessments. I know my students are pretty solid on the vocabulary, and we’re working up to some more in-depth writing and speaking assignments, but I’m not sure what to do for a quiz grade. I want it to be comprehension-based, but more than translating individual words. I’ve looked at the Realidades resources….I don’t love them. The chapter test is ok, but I don’t care for the quiz materials at all – too much focus on conjugating, questions are confusing, and it doesn’t clearly measure what students understand. I’m thinking perhaps a reading passage with some comprehension questions in English (although I do find it difficult to write good comprehension questions), or maybe filling out a graphic organizer – like a paragraph about a school schedule, and they fill out a chart?


So writing is reflecting, and after I wrote the above post, I went over to and read through the Assessment tag, and found this description of how Sara-Elizabeth did vocab quizzes in Spanish 1 and 2:

1) Ask random questions to elicit vocab, and the answer just has to make sense or be true. (¿De qué color son los ‘arches’ de McDonalds?)

So I could do something like, ¿Qué clase tienes primera? ¿Qué necesitas para la clase de matemáticas? ¿Quién enseña tu clase de literatura? ¿Cuál es tu clase favorita? ¿Por qué? Short and sweet, easy to grade (a must to sell it to my department!), and leaves vocabulary open-ended for students. I hesitate, however, because a wrong answer could mean either that they didn’t remember how to say the answer in Spanish, or that they didn’t understand the question.  So maybe give the option, (or require?) that they also write what the question means in English?

What do quizzes look like in your classes?

Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

CI: Making Class Discussion Comprehensible

Teaching in the target language can be a hard change when you come from a traditional grammar/vocabulary background. Examples of how to speak and teach comprehensibly (CI) have been really helpful for me in shifting my teaching, so today I want to share an example of how I do CI in class.

I’m teaching a school unit right now – classes, school supplies, etc. I wrote several goals defining what I want students to be able to do with what we’re studying: School Unit Presentational Goals

This is my second week in the unit, so I want to push deeper, focusing on answering questions, and how to add detail in speaking and writing. I did a quick google search for “Realidades 2A filetype:ppt” and found this powerpoint. It’s not the most exciting slideshow, but it’s enough to give me a visual aid as we discuss the different classes, and it saved me the time in creating a new one.  Here’s how I’m using it to give them lots of comprehensible input for the structures I want them to acquire:

Screenshot 2014-10-28 11.31.10

Rough script – all in the target language!

Do you like science class? Raise your hand if you like science class. Ok. I really like? I don’t like it? I hate it? Ok, good.  Hands down. Is it easy or hard? Is it interesting? Is it boring? What’s harder – science or social studies? What do you need for science class – a calculator? Sometimes or always? (new words – I point to them on the white board, with the definition). What else? A notebook?  John, when do you have science class? First period? Second period? Which science class do you have – biology? chemistry?

 Variety is key!

I like to switch it up – it gets boring if I ask all the questions for every single slide. So we might talk about when for a few classes, then switch to school supplies, and then on the last few slides describe them.

Props, gestures, and visual aids

Support comprehension with props and gestures. I have my mochila full of school supplies up front and start pulling them out if I see students aren’t understanding – Do you need a pencil [hold up pencil] in literature?  We also established gestures for our adjectives – we press the easy button for fácil, pull out our hair for difícil, twiddle our thumbs for aburrido – so then I can just do the gesture as I say the word to help my students understand, or use the gesture to suggest a response – Why don’t you like literature? [make a bored face and twiddle my thumbs, and look at my students expectantly].

Model grammar with CI

These slides are great for making comparisons. Why do a grammar lesson on más + adjective + que when I can easily teach it through comprehensible input?  So pull up the science slide: What science class do you have? Which is easier, biology or chemisty? Ok, so biology is easier than chemistry? Yes? Raise your hand: Biology is easier than chemistry. Ok, raise your hand: Chemistry is easier than biology. Or, between subjects: Class, which is more interesting – science or [switch slides] social studies?

Practice with a good class

Using CI techniques can be daunting – it takes a lot of practice to be good at it!  Lately I’ve been “test-driving” new activities in my amazing sixth period – they’re highly motivated, pay attention, and never give me discipline issues, so if a lesson doesn’t go perfectly, I don’t lose them – in fact, I usually come away encouraged, and more confident!  So if you’re thinking about trying a new technique, but are feeling intimidated, what about giving it a try in one of your better-behaved classes?

Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Authentic audio: Mis clases

I’m in the midst of my school unit – Realidades 2a, since I’m using a textbook now (and by using a book, I mean that I’m following the topics, teaching the vocab, and integrating the grammar – day-to-day teaching is mostly my ideas and inspiration I find online).  I found some great audio clips that fit well with the topic and vocab – here are the links, as well as the activities I made to go with them.



For the activities, I started with a word cloud, and they just circled the words that they heard.  After that, I had them flip their papers over to the back. I found it worked best to have them read and match the Spanish and English first, then listen one or two more times and number the statements in the order they are said. You could also have them cut up the sentences, and physically put them in order as they listen. Here’s the word document: listening seiji cristina

Audio Lingua

There are a TON of recordings related to school on audio lingua.  These are the three that I used.

For the activities, I typed up transcripts and had them fill in the blank (there might be a few errors in the transcripts – check me before you make 800 copies!). My students were all jealous of Elvira and Edinson getting a recreo in the middle of the day! I really liked all the culture in Edinson’s recording, so I typed up a short embedded-reading style summary to make sure they understood the idea of his schedule. His passage is a great review of time, too! Here are the activities: listening audio lingua – mis clases

Have you taught a school unit yet? What are your favorite resources and activities?

Planning for Learning, Sp 1 Unit 4: En la escuela

Pushing Proficiency to Novice-High: Reworking the Stamp Sheet

Last night’s #langchat was about moving students from Novice-mid to Novice-high proficiency.   This topic was of particular interest to me because although I’ve read extensively about the proficiency levels, I haven’t had any formal training and it’s difficult for me to  distinguish between Novice-Mid, Novice-High, and Intermediate-Low.  Last night’s chat gave me a LOT to think about:

  • I need to think about students’ interpretive skills in proficiency terms.
  • To improve output, spend more time on input (so true!)
  • I need to define the proficiency levels better, for both myself and my students.

I wrote a few weeks ago about stamp sheets, and how checking off all the goals out loud and individually was making me crazy. So as I was writing my goals today for the unit I’ll begin next week, I decided to reorganize the sheet by modes, and throw in some proficiency descriptors to clarify my expectations to students.

Here’s the interpretive section:

School Unit Interpretive Goals
I think I’ll have students self-assess their proficiency a couple of times during the unit as we do reading and listening activities. I want them at least at Novice-Mid, and at Novice-High for an A.


And the presentational speaking/writing section:

School Unit Presentational Goals
I think I’ll assess these for a quiz grade. I’d like to give students the option to do it out loud or in writing.


I plan to use the same proficiency descriptors for IP speaking. Here’s the complete document: Modified stamp sheet

Proficiency teachers, what do you think?  Did I get the proficiency descriptors right? Should I add or delete anything from the description? Is there something else I could say to be more specific? I welcome your input.