Grad School, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?

What I’m Learning in Grad School: CI Demo

This past weekend I began my first class for my master’s degree in Spanish Education through Auburn University. The first item on the weekend agenda was a CI demo in German! The presenter, Andrea Wilkinson, was excellent. I was reminded of so many little tid-bits about teaching in the TL just by watching and learning from her. When she first started talking I was totally confused, but pretty soon I was answering questions in German! Here’s the board with her visual aids. Each time she introduced a new word, she wrote it in German under the person it corresponded to – no English!2015-08-14 19.22.36

The topic was physical descriptions. She would present a new word, and then start asking questions. Who is pretty, Cindy or Helga? Is Cindy pretty? Is Cindy young? Is Helga young?  Every time she asked a question, she had us raise our hand and called on someone. When you answered a question, she handed you a Euro.  As soon as I saw the girl next to me get the first Euro, my attention spiked – I wanted the Euros so bad! My hand started going in the air and before I knew it I was answering her questions in German!

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The timing of this demo was quite serendipitous as I started my descriptions unit in Spanish 1 the following Monday. Having spent the whole weekend in Alabama I didn’t have time to print and laminate Euros or hunt through magazines to find the perfect visual aids, but I made it work. I have a PowerPoint with pictures of people for descriptions, but I wanted to do it like Andrea did in her demo, with all the pictures visible at once – that way, I could write all the vocab on the board and maximize potential for questioning and comparisons. So, instead of starting with my usual pictures, I started talking from this Quién es Quién image, cropping off the edges to make the image more manageable.

quien es quien

I wanted to track participation, but I didn’t have Euros to hand out. I kept the hand-raising and calling on someone strategy (if they called out the answer I just ignored them and called on someone anyway – they learned quickly to stop calling out), and wrote each student’s name on the board as they answered questions, and added checks as they continued to participate. Yesterday and today I switched and just wrote a check in the gradebook each time I called on a student. I’ve been really pleased with this for a number of reasons. One, my kids are eager to participate! Secondly, they don’t mind me circling so much because they want to get credit for their participation. I’m reminded to ask more questions and keep repeating so they all have an opportunity to answer. The gradebook is working fine for now, but I’d like to try the Euro strategy sometime because it was just so fun to feel rewarded every time you answered. Another option for tracking participation would be making a big chart on laminated poster board with all my students’ names and making the check marks there – that way, they would be able to see how many checks they have and audit me if I mess up.

One more tip I learned from Andrea was asking tag questions: You ask a question with the question word, like, Who has brown hair?, but add a choice at the end – María o Anita? The advantage of tag questions is that they are hearing the question word, but the choice at the end makes it easier to answer. It’s also a great strategy for differentiation – start with an open-ended question, and then add the tag at the end if kids aren’t sure how to answer. I was amazed at the hands that went up when I switched from Who and What questions to tag and either/or questions – I realized that students were listening hard, and were just waiting for the right question to raise their hand.

Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?

Four Corners: Take vocabulary practice out of the classroom!

Last March, I went to an excellent presentation at FLAG by Lee Burson and Erin Smith called “Halls, Walls, and Using it All.” The presentation was all about creative ways to utilize your available space, getting students up and moving around. So here’s an activity I learned from them called four corners: basically, you just need four categories, and four separate physical areas – corners, walls, whatever. Label the areas, call out a word or phrase, and students decide which category it fits in, and move to that area. So, for example, my categories today were Soy, No Soy, Tengo, and No Tengo (I am, I’m not, I have, I don’t have).

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I call out a word or phrase in Spanish (blonde hair, artistic, lazy, brown eyes) and then direct my students to physically move to the appropriate areaAfter they sort themselves out, I have each group repeat the phrase – I have blonde hair/I don’t have blonde hair, I’m artistic/I’m not artistic. 


  • Review/reinforce descriptions vocabulary
  • Distinguish between I have phrases and I am phrases – let’s not say tengo alto or soy ojos azules
  • Practice masculine and feminine adjectives – when I had a gender-specific adjective, like artístico or perezoso,  I always had the guys and girls repeat separately – Chicos, repitan, “Soy artístico!” ok, chicas, repitan, “Soy artística!” 
  • Provide lots of comprehensible input for where to put the no – I want no soy and no tengo to just sound right, so I don’t get Tengo no lentes or Soy no alto on speaking or writing assessments.

Adapt it:

  • Do it in the hall with the signs taped up to the wall, or take it outside on a pretty day and let student volunteers hold the signs.
  • The options for categories are endless:
    • I like it, I like it a lot, I don’t like it, I hate it – use it for foods, activities, or school subjects
    • Sometimes, a lot, once in awhile, never – use it for activities, places around town, chores, daily routine verbs
    • In the morning, in the afternoon, at night – Again, activities or daily routine verbs
    • Breakfast, lunch, dinner – for categorizing foods/drinks
    • Alone, with my family, with my friends – maybe for working verb forms, ask Who do you ____ with? And the sentences could be, I study alone. My friends and I go to school together. My family and I watch TV together.  You could indicate other groups or individuals to get in the he/she and they forms.
  • Make it more challenging: after a few rounds, prompt each group of students to produce the sentence on their own, rather than repeating
  • Make it simpler: If you have TPR-able vocab, you can do this at the beginning of the unit and support comprehension of the phrases you call out by doing the gesture. You could also use picture cards to support comprehension (rather than clarifying in English) if the vocabulary doesn’t lend well to gesturing.
Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?, Teaching Reflections

Today my lesson was dreadful + Reflecting on my strengths? #reflectiveteacher Day 15

So I thought my lesson today was going to be awesome, until I taught it and it wasn’t.  Perhaps the anticipation made the subsequent failing all the worse? Pride goeth before a fall, and whatnot…

Anywhere, my goal was “I can describe my personality,” and for my fast processors, “I can describe someone else’s personality.” So I was presenting personality adjectives, and not being something readily illustratable or TPR-able (on first thought), I went with an idea I saw on the Creative Language Class awhile back – sorting the vocab words into meaningful categories. So I assembled a vocab list on quizlet, printed flashcards, and planned the different ways we would sort our words.

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Used that black square at the bottom to hide the future categories – just wanted them to focus on one task at a time.

I even had a Wordle projected on the board as they came into the room:

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whoops that accent mark…forgive me, please.

Problem #1: Too complicated to explain in the target language.

But I had to ask them in English what they understood in the word cloud…how do you check comprehension without L1?  Please, wise language teachers, educate me.  But back to Spanish for the sorting activity, yes?  Because clasifica is a cognate, and they know comprendo/no comprendo – but I gave instructions in Spanish, and they didn’t get what I wanted them to do. So I told them in English. And they did it…but then I wanted them to sort again, but they didn’t quite get it, so I switched to English, again. And again. And by 7th period, it was 90% English, with the only input coming from the cards. *facepalm*

Problem #2: Poor timing, poor transitions

This one I actually was able to rectify throughout the day (I teach the same lesson 5 times) – I realized that I was moving on too quickly, while some students were still engaged in the current task. I also realized that I needed to be very clear with instructions about the activity up front. Solution: give detailed instructions explaining the WHOLE activity as we begin it, more wait time, observe where my students are in the process (don’t rush it because it “feels” like it’s been long enough), and do a transition between each round of classification. 

Transition/summarization activities:

After Opposites – ran through flashcards on quizlet with both English and Spanish showing, and asked students for the opuesto (en español, por favor).

After Soy/No soy (I am, I’m not) – turn to your partner and say a sentence starting with Soy and a sentence starting with No soy 

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My very fancy high-prep visual aid for this carefully planned speaking activity.

After un buen/mal profesor and un novio excelente/terrible – discuss, write adjectives on board, then point to each word I’ve written and have students translate. I also gave them sentence starters for a quick speaking break with their partner.

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Problem #3: Asking for production of new words before they have audio input.

So when I was asking for them to say the opposites of each adjective, en español? Terrible pronunciation…and entirely my fault, because while they were getting input from the flashcards, it was only reading input, and they had maybe heard each word once or twice. Once I realized this, I ran through the cards on Quizlet and had them repeat, but honestly, I should have known better and planned to introduce with audio input. 

Problem #4: Should have picked the target vocab better.

In the set of flashcards, I included Soy and Es, plus some adjectives for physical descriptions (tall, short, pretty, etc). I wish I hadn’t done that, and rather had focused purely on personality adjectives. It was confusing for some of the categorizations, like opuestos, because many of the words didn’t have an opposite. Furthermore, they know appearance adjectives pretty well, and it probably would have been better to give them fewer flashcards to work with (I gave them 30….but in my defense, half or 2/3 were already familiar or cognates). Perhaps if I had been more careful in choosing the words, I would have had more success in giving instructions in the target language.


TeachThought‘s Reflection topic for day 15: Name three strengths you have as an educator.

Honestly, I wasn’t feeling very strength-y this afternoon. Today ended up being very whack-a-mole-y (with discipline and classroom management – that’s what I get for a poorly planned lesson), and I was exhausted and frustrated. But then I read reflections from some other world language teachers:

And thought, oh, me too – yes, I’m good at that too – oh, yes, that sounds like me – over and over (except the part about being super organized, haha. I’m with Señora Spanglish on that one, over there in “still developing” organizational skills! ). And I decided that a bad teaching day does not make me a bad teacher, and the humility to recognize and learn from a failed lesson is a strength in itself. So my three strengths:

1. Reflection – I learn from my mistakes (see above).

2. Resourcefulness – I cannot do everything on my own, I cannot plan engaging, CI, proficiency-based lessons all on my own, and I’m not a Spanish-English dictionary and cannot answer every ¿Cómo se dice…? inquiry instantly, on the spot. However, I’m aware of my limitations, and I know how to find help – on the internet, with my colleagues next door, and in my online blogging, pinning, and tweeting PLN.

3. Growth mindset – for myself and my students. I’m not where I want to be as an educator, but I’m working in the right direction. Mastery is an asymptote, and learning to teach is a life-long pursuit.


Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?

Stations: Descriptions Unit

Today was station day in Spanish 1! Today we were practicing giving descriptions, as well as reviewing numbers and time.

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List of stations on the board: I let my kids free-range (no time limits or specific order to do the stations in), so writing the list on the board helps let them know what activities are available. Later in the day, I rewrote the list and starred the “required” stations, and specified where they were in the room.

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Writing station – instructions and an example on the board. I make multiple copies of the instructions so students can take it back to their desks. One of the beautiful things about stations is that it lets students work at their own pace – they can take as much time as they need to do the writing, without feeling like they need to keep up with their classmates.


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This is the second time we’ve done stations and my kids are trained! Taking a picture of the instructions is always acceptable, and saves on paper and clutter.


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This is just like last time – get a bag of questions, and practice out loud with your partner. I used the same bags of questions, and added ¿De qué color es tu pelo? ¿De qué color son tus ojos? for the current unit focus.  “Wait, what do we write? How will you know we did it?” Nothing. I’ll know you did it because you learned it.
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Reading/drawing station: Forgot to take a picture of the instructions, but basically, it’s “Draw What I Say” based on a text instead of listening. I typed up some short descriptions, and had them choose four of them to draw and label. Later in the day (I always learn as I go!), I also offered the option to summarize in English instead of drawing – the point is to demonstrate comprehension, and I’m happy to let them do that in the way that they are most comfortable with.
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Jenga: practice with numbers. Plus, it’s fun! Had to reduce the time limit to two games, then to one, because they’re just too good at it 🙂


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Yep, that’s a hump day shirt.

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More practice with time. Yep, we did that matching activity two weeks ago. #ShamelessRecycler

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Guess Who: I printed these Guess Who Boards with Spanish names in color last year (google “Quién es Quién to find them – bet there are other languages, too!) and laminated them. I provided students with a list of questions (they understand pretty well, but producing these questions is beyond their current ability level), and let them play the game, marking the boards with a dry erase marker. They don’t erase perfectly (these boards might have another year in them), but it’s pretty good for a cheap version of the game.


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We spent about 40 minutes on stations today, and I plan to give them another 15 or 20 minutes tomorrow. I found last time that two full days was too much time, and the behavior started to deteriorate. *Most* of my students really enjoyed the day, but there’s always that one who doesn’t, and I find it’s the negative comments that stick with me more than the positive. I had a student (at the ripe old age of 16) tell me that my class was too “freshman-y” today, and honestly, it really stung. It did inspire some reflection, though, and that comment sparked a few changes in how I managed the stations in the afternoon – mainly, clarifying that the reading, writing, time, and conversation stations MUST be done, but playing games was optional (as long as you are doing something related to Spanish), and giving the option to translate instead of draw at the reading station. I refuse to give up the [instructionally useful] silliness and games [that provide opportunities to practice language in context], but I can also find ways to incorporate options that appeal to a variety of students. Autonomy and choice are HUGE motivators, and it’s my goal to incorporate activities that allow students to learn and show me their learning in ways that are comfortable and meaningful to them. It also occurred to me that the freedom to manage your own time and participate in the learning activities that you prefer with minimal supervision from the teacher (I’m there, but on station day there’s no way I can be on top of every student simultaneously) takes a certain amount of maturity, and the freshmen and sophomores totally blew it out of the water today. 🙂

Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 2: Who am I?

Comprehensible Input: Draw What I Say!

Drawing is a great way for students to demonstrate comprehension, without requiring them to produce language they aren’t ready for. “Draw what I say” (fancy title, I know!) is a simple, no-prep activity to get lots of reps of draw-able structures. This week I used it to work on colors and physical characteristics.

My paper - filled out as I talked first period.
My paper – filled out as I talked first period.

Step 1: I ask students to get out a piece of paper, and fold it three times (all in the TL – I demonstrate as I talk). I then have them number 1-6 (again in the TL, walking around and pointing at my own paper), leaving the last two squares blank – we’ll draw in squares 1-6, and write sentences in the empty spots. I also direct them to get markers  or colored pencils (our fabulous German teacher lent me his class set).

Step 2: Tell them what to draw! I was able to hit physical features, colors, clothing (really basic – shirt, pants, shorts, dress, shoes – we’ve already practiced these through stories and TPR), and feelings (feliz/triste/enojado – easy to model or TPR) as well as review some key phrases from unit 1 -we named each character, gave them an age, and said what time it was.

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Step 3: Extend the activity!

Reading: Give a warm up with comprehension questions based on the drawing:


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1st period’s warm up questions.

Listening: I made statements about one of the drawings, and had students point or hold up fingers (1, 2, or 3) to indicate which character it was about. Ie: Tiene pelo castaño. Lleva un vestido. Tiene 15 años. 

Writing: Use the empty boxes to have students write descriptions of the characters.

Speaking: Ask questions in class about the drawing, and have students answer chorally. Have them work with a partner to ask and answer questions about the drawings, or just have them practice making statements about the characters (telling other people’s age, hair and eye color are among our goals for this unit).