Teaching Reflections

Lesson Wrap Up: Vocab Sort

Recently, students completed surveys about me as part of my state evaluations. One of the questions was, “My teacher takes time to summarize what we’ve learned at the end of class.”  I realized that too often, I let class just end, without a clear wrap up or closing activity.  This week, I’ve been working on explicitly connecting the work we do in class with the communicative goals on our stamp sheet.  Today we did a reading modeling how to make, accept, and decline invitations. As a closing activity, I posted this on my Promethean board:

Screenshot 2015-03-26 11.16.19

I called out each phrase, and students told me which category it belonged in – inviting, accepting, or declining. It worked as a review of what they learned, spelled out what they needed for their stamps (ie their learning goals), and also worked help expand vocabulary, especially for my higher-level students (multiple ways to accomplish each goal).

Screenshot 2015-03-26 11.16.53

On the tech-specifics, I’ve done activities like this with both smart and Promethean boards. If you type each word separately, you can simply drag and drop into the correct category (duplicate the slide for each class to avoid re-scrambling each period). This could also be low-tech with words written out on index cards or construction paper, or on an individual level with printed cards or flashcards.  You can do a vocab sort for just about any topic – breakfast, lunch, or dinner foods? Clothes for hot or cold weather? Grammar  – does this word go with el or la? Does the word describe boys, girls, or both? The possibilities are endless.  With just a bit of prep, it’s a great lesson opener or closer.


Five things I love about Quizlet


One of my favorite tech tools is Quizlet.com, an online flashcard creator. A couple of features I love:

1. Searching for other sets. Instead of creating a new set of words, I often run a topical search and find a set with most of the words I want – for example, Spanish Clothes, or, even better, Realidades 3a. I usually find several sets that are close to what I want, so I can quickly copy one, edit it to fit my needs, and it’s ready to go. You can also check a box to search for sets with images, and boom! You’ve got picture flashcards, ready to go!

2. Adding sets to my class makes it easy to communicate expectations with students and parents. Even with a free account, I can set up a class for my students where they can find all of their vocabulary. Each unit, I add the new vocabulary set to my class. Students know where to find it to study at home, and it provides a link for me to send to parents, either as a resource for struggling students, or as a quick make up work assignment.

3. Printing flashcards and vocab lists is super easy! I print the lists all the time for students who have missed class, and often print flashcards for different class activities. Also, since it’s so easy to find sets of common vocabulary with pictures, I often use quizlet to print the vocabulary images, either to use as flashcards, or to cut up and re-purpose for another activity.

4. It talks to you. I love this as an option for students to review at home and hear the pronunciation. I also will run through the flashcards as a quick review at the beginning or end of class, and it’s nice to have the quizlet voice as a change after hearing me all period.

5. Games & Quizzes I don’t know why matching games are so fun, but every time we do stations, I have students ask to do quizlet so they can play scatter! I also use the quiz feature from time to time – although I generally like my assessments to go beyond English to Spanish definitions, it’s nice to be able to quickly generate a quiz as a review, make up work, or extra practice assignment.

How do you use Quizlet?

Sp 1 Unit 5: ¿Qué te gusta comer?, Teaching Reflections

Writing for Vocab Review

My students had a quiz today, so yesterday I needed an activity to review vocabulary. I thought about using Colleen’s Pictionary idea, but my students frequently disengage during games, particularly in my sleepy first period and wild seventh period. I came up with this activity on the fly, and was able to throw it together in five or ten minutes before class.  Basically, I projected a picture on the board, and asked students to write about it. Here are the rules:

Screenshot 2015-01-15 11.15.06

It’s low prep, and despite being a paper and pencil writing activity – something my students usually complain about – with the carrots of group work, competition, and a PRIZE, engagement was high! Here are some of the images I used:

food images

I offered a point for each word, but double points for sentences. Next time I think I’ll also offer a bonus for each unique transition or connector word – and, but, also, because, with, etc. I set the timer for a minute and a half, and let them count their own points when the timer beeped (I audited if necessary). I typed my own sentences, but hid them behind the picture, so I could quickly reveal my sentences to go over with the class, then hide again to be ready for the next class. It also served to model how to count the points, and groups got really excited when they could beat my point total! Overall, it served the purpose of reviewing vocabulary, but also got students working to create better and better sentences.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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 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.

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.35
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:

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.47
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 

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.55.20
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.

Screenshot 2014-09-15 15.57.26


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.