Conferences & Professional Learning, EdTech

World Language Summit – Technology Enhanced Speaking and Listening Activities

I’m looking forward to presenting at the World Language Summit at North Cobb Christian School tomorrow! I will be sharing some ideas for creating speaking and listening activities for online and hybrid learning environments. Here my slides:

Class Activities, Spanish 2

Weekend Chat Speed Dating

My students are not so good at participating in whole- class discussions, so I try to find different ways talk about our weekends each Monday. I wrote about several of these ideas last fall, and today I want to add one more: Weekend Chat speed dating. Click here for my handout.

For the warm up, I had students fill out the top part of the handout:

Screenshot 2016-03-28 12.34.55

Then, we arranged the desks into rows like this:


Students asked each other the questions and recorded their answers in the boxes below. Every three to four minutes, one row rotated so everyone got a new partner. I liked how many reps of hiciste they got, as well as repetitions of their own favorite weekend activities, and exposure to the verbs their partners chose to use. I also pushed students to add details – Ok, so you slept. How long? At what time? Until when? We talked about the  grammar a little bit (we’ve been working on the preterite awhile), and I asked them to record their partner’s responses in the he/she form. I felt like the activity dragged on a little too long, but it could easily be shortened by cutting down on the questions or the number of partner rotations.

Spanish 2

Quick Tip: Throwback Thursday

I have been encouraging/tracking participation this semester with tickets – answer a question in Spanish, you get a ticket. At the end of each class I take up and tally tickets, and assign a grade for participation every week or two. One of my Spanish 2 students complained yesterday that I wasn’t offering enough opportunities to earn tickets. So, here is the warm up I gave today:

Screenshot 2016-02-11 13.55.15

I took several answer for the first few questions, and then for 5, 6, 7, and 10, I called on students as long as they could come up with unique responses. I like to use warm ups as discussion starters, but I’m finding it difficult to find ways to personalize and discuss the vocab for the current unit in Spanish 2 (Realidades 2b – shopping). This warm up was a nice break from the boring textbook vocabulary, and worked great as a review, as well as offering lots of opportunities for students to answer questions and earn their tickets.

Sp 1 Unit 5: ¿Qué te gusta comer?

Teaching vocab with CI: Bebidas Edition

I had a grad school seminar this past weekend (aka class aaaallllll weekend) and despite the stress and hassle, I have to say it was very beneficial. My mind is buzzing with ideas for assessment, teaching, and generally with language learning paradigms. My big epiphany from the weekend (don’t judge!): for students to gain any kind of useable proficiency, it is essential to use the language in class! I always start the year out strong with speaking lots of Spanish, but as the semester progresses my TL use has slipped lower and lower.

Today, my goal was to introduce new vocabulary with minimal use of English. My professor advocates for comprehensible input, but furthermore, for not translating vocabulary – no English, ever. This rubbed me wrong a bit in our first seminar – well, I think English is useful for establishing meaning, let’s avoid the guessing games, ACTFL’s recommendation is 90% TL – but I also know that I speak way too much English in class, so I wanted to see how much I could do in Spanish, establishing meaning in other ways. Here’s what I did:

Spanish 1

I’m starting Realidades chapter 3a, which is the food chapter. I decided to start with drinks, mainly because I saw a great demo by Lee Burson and Erin Smith at FLAG a few years ago, which gave me a good idea of how to get lots of reps. I gave them a handout with some glasses and mugs, with lines to write their vocab at the bottom. I modeled on the doc cam, writing the word on the blank, and then coloring the appropriate cup to represent the drink. Throughout, I asked questions, starting with te gusta questions, continuing with ¿Bebes _____ en el desayuno?, comparison questions (¿Prefieres jugo de naranja o jugo de manzana?), and open ended questions – ¿Qué tipo de refresco prefieres? ¿Qué bebes en el almuerzo? I had a plastic apple and orange that helped establish meaning for apple and orange juice, we drew a cow for leche, for refresco I gave brand name examples, and té dulce I gave a quick translation for. Minimal English? Check!  Engaging? Kind of. I really have a great group of kids first period, who put up with the amount of questions I asked with out getting too squirrelly, but it would not work (or at least for not as long) with my 4th block group. After all the listening and sitting still, I gave them a simple survey activity to complete with a few classmates – ¿Bebes _________?/Sí, mucho/a veces/todos los días/No, nunca.  I had to translate the frequency phrases, but they definitely needed a change of pace and this worked well.

drinks 2drinks 1


Las bebidas handout

drinks speaking activity

Spanish 2 to come tomorrow!

Class Activities

4 Variations on Weekend Chat

Week end chat” has been a Monday routine in my Spanish 2 classes for the past several weeks, ever since we started the preterite. To keep it fresh, I like to switch up the activities. Here are a few I’ve used:

  1. Whole class discussion. Focus: yo form & follow up questions. This was the very first way I did weekend chat. It happened to be the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend, so I projected a paragraph about what I did on the weekend. (Google slides here) I had them read, and then I think I asked comprehension questions or had them translate. Then, I showed this slide:

weekend chat

I set the animation so the English didn’t show, and went over the meanings (I hadn’t taught past tense yet).  Then, I had them write 3 sentences about what they did that weekend, writing phrases on the board if they asked me. After a few minutes, I called on them and asked what they did, and tried to ask follow questions – ¿Con quién? ¿Dónde trabajas? ¿A qué hora te levantaste? I tracked participation on Class Dojo and gave extra points for each follow up question they responded to.

2. Group discussion: Focus: Asking and answering questions, saying what someone else did A few weeks later, I had re-arranged my desks into groups of 4. I gave my students this handout as a guide to talk about their weekend. I walked around and listened/chatted with each group, then as a class, called on individuals and asked them what someone else in their group had done.

Honestly, I really like this activity…in theory. In practice, my kids speak Spanish when I’m there, switch to English when I walk  away, and manage to answer the ¿Qué hizo [tu compañero]? question by asking each other in English during their discussion time, translating and writing down in about 1 minute, and being ready with that answer when I call on them. Not a lot of actual discussion going on. So a few weeks later we did…

3. Weekend chat seek & sign. Focus: asking questions in the tú form, telling what other people did (él/ella form). Handout here

weekend chat seek and sign

My kids seemed to enjoy this one, and I heard a lot of Spanish being spoken during the activity. For me, the key to Seek & Signs (or classmate scavenger hunts, whatever you want to call them) is not to use them too often, and these magic words: “Don’t sign unless they ask you in Spanish.”  When they finished, I had them write sentences in Spanish telling what other people did (Remember to change the verb ending…if Sara did the action, how does the verb end? It needs to be the él/ella ending…Rinse & repeat). I tailored the questions to the activities I had been hearing over the past few weeks, and it seemed to work well- we found someone for every activity in each class! I’m going to re-use this in a week or two, but maybe change a few of the questions.

4. Two truths and a lie. Focus: yo form preterite (writing), él/ella preterite (listening) “Write down two true things you did this weekend and 1 false thing. Put your name on it, mark the lie, and give it to me.” Since my kids sit in groups, team games work really well. Each of my groups was a team and got a mini white board. I read a statement from a student (written in yo form, I read in 3rd person), and the groups decided which one was false (the group of the target student was exempt). They showed me their answers on their whiteboards, and I kept score on the document cam (you could also do it on the board, but the doc cam was easier for me). My students looooooved this one. Read mine! Read Drake’s! No, don’t stop, you haven’t read mine yet! Just do them all! (I did not give in…after reading about half of the class’s sentences we had been doing it long enough).

Each week, I run through the most popular phrases with this Quizlet set. My students are doing really well with the yo form (I am teaching grammar pretty traditionally this year :/), and had no trouble at all with fui when I taught ir, because they had practiced it so much each week with weekend chat. I also like how it’s a chance to get outside of our mandated Realidades vocabulary lists, and gives students a reason to acquire vocabulary that is relevant to their lives.

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

Teaching Reflections

What I’m Learning in Grad School: Is this really communicative?

My grad school  reading this week is a chapter from the book Making Communcatice Language Teaching Happen (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). I’ve read about 15 pages of it and can already tell I’m really going to enjoy it – I was reading over my coffee before school this week. 🙂 My assigned chapter included a unit plan template: present vocabulary with comprehensible input, do a listening input activity, do a reading input activity, then do output activities. This clicked with me – basic as it is, it’s a fleshed out version of the “input before output” mantra that I think will be helpful for me to keep in mind.

A big challenge for me this year is curriculum. My teaching philosophy is “teach for proficiency with comprehensible input and authentic resources” but my curriculum is decidedly grammar-driven.  This quote from chapter 4 is ringing true with me:

The point, then, is that topicalized or contextualized grammar is not equivalent to a communicative or proficiency orientation. True communicative- and proficiency-oriented instruction cannot be grammar driven. Moreover, in many cases a communicative goal cannot be equated with (or reduced to) a particular grammatical item. In those textbooks  in which communicative goals are apparently equated with grammar, the linguistic tools provided might not be what is needed to realize the stated communicative goals. What is evident from the preceding examples on daily routines is that the stated communicative goal is actually window dressing for a pre-determined grammatical point; communication is at the service of grammar rather than the other way around. 

“Window dressing for a pre-determined grammatical point.” BAM. That is how I feel about my Spanish 2 curriculum and our current march through the preterite. It’s rough. Anyway, my curriculum and final exam are what they are, and can’t be changed for the time being. As I teach this year, my goal is to inject some life into these textbook units with a few communicative goals, comprehensible input, and authentic resources and share share share with my colleagues – an add-on approach, like for healthy eating…add on the good stuff first, then work on cutting out the bad stuff later.

So, in the spirit of sharing “the good stuff,” here are a few things that have been working for me lately:

I’ve been working on doing “comprehensible input” class discussions. These work great for introducing and practicing vocabulary. I throw up some pictures on the board, start making some statements, and ask about 8,000 questions. I have students raise their hands to answer questions, and track participation with Class Dojo. Sometimes I get a student to help me with assigning points, but I’ve found that I can keep up with it if I use the “award multiple” button. Every week or two, I assign a participation grade based on part on Class Dojo points. I have it weighted quite low – a tenth of a regular daily grade – but the fact that my students know they are being tracked has done wonders for our discussions.

In Spanish 2, I’ve just started Realidades 2 chapter 3A – places around town, errands, irregular preterite, and direct object pronouns. I checked the teacher’s guide for the chapter as I was planning, and it had some great suggestions for how to present the vocab with input! I followed the suggestions and started with the place vocab. I gave students clip art copies of the pictures to cut out, and projected some pictures on the board. On Day 1, we talked about (and by talked about I mean made a few statements and then asked 8,000 questions) what time each placed opened and closed. We would pause and I would call out a place and they would hold it up (you could also do this by calling out the activity you do at each place – Cobré un cheque, compré champú, vi al médico).  After that, we pasted the pictures in our interactive notebook and copied relevant phrases next to each picture. On the second day, I projected the places on the board and stuck a little stick figure guy up with a magnet. I asked, ¿Dónde está Paquito? ¿Por qué está en el banco? and so on. In my 4th period I asked a student to time how long we good go without speaking English (gracias Melanie!) it turned AWESOME all of a sudden when I asked ¿A quién envía su carta?  And of course it was for his girlfriend, and a student commented bonita, and I said no no, she’s ugly, but smart and funny and RICH! And so we added her to the story, in the consultorio of course, getting her teeth fixed! And when Paquito needed money, did he go to the bank? No! He went to the consultorio and asked his girlfriend! As soon as our discussion turned into a story, engagement shot through the roof. #success

In addition to vocab practice, I’ve used this format – CI chats with participation points in ClassDojo – for weekend chats (preterite in CONTEXT!) and most recently to give opinions on our weekly songs. I gave students a copy of the first side of this “Eres el juez” activity from Sharon Birch. We went over what the phrases meant, then listened to clips of several different songs. I can’t tell you how much fun this was – my students were excited to tell me their opinion and hands were up as soon as I stopped each song!  I also made a Quizlet set of the phrases so I can review quickly before our song next week.

It is important to me to maintain a good attitude – I don’t want to be a teacher who blames it on my students (“they’re so unmotivated”), my standards (“too vague”), my textbook, my colleagues, or my district-mandated final exam. As the teacher, I’m no robot – I’m a creative force with a head full of knowledge on how students acquire language, and it is my job to find a way to marry best practices with all the challenges of my particular situation.


Class Activities, Sp 1: Weather

Speaking Practice for Weather & Feelings

Here is an activity I used to practice weather and feelings vocabulary, as well as asking and answering questions. Students set up their paper like this:

weather feelings speaking activityTo get students to respond with a variety of feelings and weathers, I assigned them their responses:

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I typed up a list, made a masculine and feminine version for the feelings, and printed on color-coded card stock.

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Cut into strips and ready to be handed out

I gave my students the usual lecture about doing the activity in Spanish (ask and answer the questions in Spanish. If you do it in English or copy someone else’s you miss out on the practice and on the learning), and set them loose to start speaking. I circulated, participated, managed, encouraged, and corrected as needed.  They finished up with some summary sentences at the end.


  • Most of my classes did pretty well with staying in Spanish. I was quite pleased.
  •  We’re working on the verb estar, so I included the question Where are you? to get in more reps. I liked that it gave me an excuse to recycle/review Spanish-speaking countries and capitals.
  • Usually when I do activities like this my students personalize their answers (How old are you? Where are you from? What do you eat for breakfast?), but assigning responses worked well this time.  My kids seemed to acquire a few phrases, like frío, sol, feliz, and triste pretty quickly, but need more practice with other phrases. I also liked that their answer strip served as CI – gender-specific feelings, whole weather phrases, etc.
  • I gave a vocabulary quiz today and I was pretty disappointed with the results. :/  Last year I used a daily warm up sheet where they circled a response to ¿Cómo estás? and ¿Qué tiempo hace?, and we went over it every day. I’m going to try that, and offer a re-take in a week or two.

If you want to use my files, here are the dropbox links:

Student response form (my classes ended up doing it on notebook paper – copy paper is running low)

Weather/feeling/location assignments

Weather warm up sheet – this is one I used last year, when I realized half my students couldn’t answer ¿Cómo estás? I’m going to tweak the answers a bit to encourage them to use a wider variety of responses.





Class Activities

Taking Speaking Practice Outside

In my classroom, I have an outside door:

It's not quite this pretty anymore, but you get the idea.
It’s not quite this pretty anymore, but you get the idea.

Every once in awhile, when it’s a pretty day, I like to go outside for a short activity. I find that partner speaking activities work well outside. Today it was 65 degrees and sunny (I love Georgia weather!), so I printed a half-page handout with questions on one side and helpful phrases for answering on the back.  We formed two lines with partners facing each other. Students took turns asking and answering questions, and I walked around to listen and give feedback. A two minute timer on my phone reminded us when to switch roles (asking/answering), and we also changed partners once or twice, in order to get more reps of the questions. At the end, we huddled up for a chat, or I called out the questions to the group, and everyone answered at once. It was a nice change of scenery, and it was much easier to switch partners without all the classroom furniture in the way!


Class Activities, Sp 1 Unit 1: Greetings/goodbyes/ numbers/calendar

Teaching Time With Picture Cards

One of my favorite resources for almost any unit is a set of picture cards for vocab words. Today I was teaching time,  so I gave students this handout:

time images


You can make prettier ones here (digital or analogue clocks! five minute intervals! quarter hour intervals! thirty minute intervals! customize the clock face!), but I couldn’t easily get the combination of numbers I wanted, so I just typed the what I wanted into a chart in Word (still trying to think of a way to use the pretty ones though!) .  Download for free here.

So, step 1: input! After briefly introducing vocabulary, (Son las ___, y cuarto, y media), I started calling out times and having them point to the corresponding clock on their picture sheet. Note: the order of the clocks is deliberate! Since time is new to them (and in the past it’s taken my students a looooong time to be able to tell me what time it is!), I wanted to get lots of reps of the most important phrases – Son las ____, es la una, y cuarto, y media. I started with just the clocks on the first row, and gradually started calling out times on the subsequent rows as their confidence increased. You can also have them look at the clocks and repeat the vocab, or start it for them (Es la una…) and then let them finish (…y media)

Tip: Give directions in the target language! I say indica or toca and exaggeratedly mime pointing at my paper. If they don’t get it, I clarify with a word or two of English.

Step 2: Practice! Picture cards lend themselves quite well to matching. Matching activities are great because they feel like a game, they get students to read (without them realizing it’s a reading activity), and they give my fidgety teenagers a hands-on way to practice. Furthermore, it’s a student-centered way of giving input (so much CI is teacher-centered!), and when you match Spanish to pictures, there’s no English! Here’s what it looked like:




I made a class set of the “words” handout (download it here), and two class sets of the “numbers” handout – one to keep whole for the first half of class point-at-what-I-say activity, and one to cut apart for the matching activity.  I like to print the cut-apart cards on a different color paper – it makes them “pop” during the matching activity, and it helps to find them when they fall on the floor (Side note: one of my students couldn’t find the match for “Son las cinco.” So he called me over and told me, “Hey, Señorita, I’m missing one – there’s a five o’clock somewhere!”).

Tip: Keep your workload manageable – don’t try to cut thirty sets of cards yourself! My first period takes a couple of minutes to cut the cards apart, then clips each set together at the end of class. We throw them in a plastic bag, and a student walks around and collects the sets at the end of the activity.



Step 3: Practice some more! I asked them to hold up one of the pink cards for their partner, and have them tell what time it is. They have the white handout right there with the answers for support, so they can look at it to give their answer, or just use it to check each other.

More activities:

Lo tengo: A listening comprehension game. Divide students into groups, give each group a set of the picture cards (the clocks in this case), and have them split up the cards among them. Call out a word in the TL (or a definition or description in the TL), and each group races to be the first to find the corresponding card and yell Lo tengo!   More detailed instructions here!

Bingo? As soon as my students saw the cards they started begging me to play bingo. I haven’t yet found a program to take my vocabulary words or pictures and randomize them into 30+ unique bingo cards. Any ideas? All I can think of is having students cut apart the pictures and tape or glue them into custom bingo boards – is there a way to do that electronically? Free, preferably?

That’s all I’ve got – what else do you do with vocabulary picture cards? Quite a bit of prep goes into making the cards, so I like to get as many uses out of them as possible. Share, share share in the comments!