Just a quick post…..I’ve been using a poster site called desmotivar for a few months now. I’ve used it in several different fashions:

1.  to “pique” interest at the beginning of class

2.  to introduce a new concept without saying what it is

3.  to highlight vocabulary that we are currently working with

4.  to have students replace the text with their own text

A feature of the site that I really like is the desmotivaciones por temas.  I can easily click on the category that is of most interest to me and immediately be taken to appropriate media.  WARNING:  some of the posters may not be high school appropriate.  I do not send students to the site.  I put their media on my wikispace to use for my purposes.  Additionally, since anyone is encouraged to create and upload their creations, their are definitely errors on the posters (which can be a fun thing to do, too….spot the mistake).

post 3

post 2

ppost 1

Wiffiti, a fun tool for interaction!

This was the week that teachers in my district went back to school and I’ve been working on getting my wikispace set up for classes that begin on Monday.  One of the new tools that I am eager to try out this year is Wiffiti.  The description on their site reads:  Wiffiti publishes real time messages to screens in thousands of locations from jumbotrons to jukeboxes, bars to bowling alleys and cafes to colleges. 

This past week, several world language teachers in my department have been helping me experiment with Wiffiti.  I really like the fact that the text messages show up quickly on the screen, and that older messages fade back as newer messages come in.  It certainly is an attention getter!

How am I going to use this in my classes?  Well, every student that I know has a cellphone.  Initially I am going to post a question and have them text their answer, probably as they enter class.  When you text a response to the number on the screen, Wiffiti sends you a return text that gives you a user name.  Therefore, other students will not know who has posted what.  You can see the screen that I’ve created for my Spanish IV students here. I think I may use it for very brief homework assignments, too.  Additionally, I like the fact that I am able to embed the screen on my wiki and keep the content relatively private.  However, until I actually get to see how it works, and how the students respond to it, I can’t say a lot….but I have high hopes.

I’m also very interested in using Poll everywhere for a bit more structured feedback.  After I’ve experimented with it, I may write a post about it.  Right now I have an open ended response screen set up for my Spanish III classes here.

To have a bit of fun, I decided to create one for experimental purposes here.  Hopefully some of you will respond with a message! Click here to see the sample screen for this blog.

Food, glorious food!

Food.  We all teach about it, no matter the language or the level and all of us have developed many activities.  In this post I will share some activities and ideas that perhaps will be new, some are specifically for Spanish but some are general for any language.  As always, I would love to hear about your ideas and activities.  Since I teach Spanish III and IV, some of the activities will be too advanced for I and II, but could certainly be adapted.

Game/Online activities

Conversation Ideas (small groups or partners)

    • foods you like/don’t like; fruits and vegetables
    • food that your family always has for special occasions or holidays
    • food that is finger licking good (para chuparse los dedos), that is disgusting (da asco), that is out of date/expired, safe to eat or not? (está pasada), that makes your mouth water (se me hace agua la boca)
    • foods that change to other foods (milk to yogurt, peanuts to peanut butter, orange to orange juice, strawberries to jelly, etc.)
    • What am I?  Partner A describes a food to Partner B who must guess what the food is (I am round, sometimes red, sometimes green.  I’m good in pies.  [apple])
    • what do you prefer on your pizza/ on your hamburger
    • favorite fast foods
    • Very guided practice

Compañero A: 

  1. ¿Qué es tu bebida favorita?
  2. ¿Qué es tu fruta preferida?
  3. ¿Cuándo comes helado?
  4. ¿A qué hora comes la cena?
  5. ¿Qué te gusta poner en una hamburguesa?

Compañero B:

  1. ¿Qué es tu comida favorita?
  2. ¿Qué es tu verdura preferida?
  3. ¿Qué te gusta poner en tu pizza?
  4. ¿A qué hora comes el desayuno?
  5. ¿Cuándo comes en un restaurante?

Video Clips


Artistic Activities

  • Small groups, give students a picture of an open refrigerator and markers/pencils.  Give them one minute to draw food in the refrigerator.  Pass the picture to another group; give them one minute to add more food to the new refrigerator before passing to another group.  Repeat cycle.  After several drawing opportunities, have students identify the food in the refrigerator orally with their group.  After a time or two of the oral work, have students label the food in the refrigerator.
  • Pictionary  Divide class into two teams.  Have each team choose an “artist” who will be drawing on the board.  Give each team a few (2-3, depending on size of class) small whiteboards/markers.  Show the two artists a vocabulary food word to draw on the board.  The teams must write the food word on their whiteboard and hold it up for verification/point.  I usually have the team have the same word written on all of their whiteboards; this keeps everyone involved.
  • Food description  Students work with a partner, each one has been given a picture of a food item.  Without saying the word in Spanish, Partner A will describe the food item to Partner B, who must draw it.


    • Class is divided into small groups.  Teacher gives a category and gives the groups one minute to write as many words as possible that fit into the category.  Have the group pass the paper to another group who will verify that the words all fit into the category and assign points.
    • Class is divided into small groups.  Teacher gives a category and gives the groups one minute to write as many words as possible that fit into the category. Teacher starts with one group who will read their words to the class slowly.  If another group has the word, the word does not count.  Groups receive points for the words they have that no other group has.
    • Use the categories like playing Taboo.  One member of the team sees the category and begins to list foods that fit in the category.  Point(s) are awarded when their team can identify the category correctly.

Sports, Friends and the Present Perfect

I believe that all language curriculums cover similar vocabulary units, including units for sports and friends.  As students progress through the levels, the topics basically remain the same, but the vocabulary becomes more extensive and advanced.  Such is the case for my Spanish III students.  The curriculum for our textbook (remember that I don’t use the textbook, but do follow the curriculum) combines some advanced vocabulary for sports and friends, producing an enjoyable chapter.   Most of my high school students are either student athletes or very interested in sports, additionally,  most of them are quite interested in acquiring new vocabulary so that they can describe their friends as stubborn, “got my back”, “stood me up”, and trustworthy, etc.  In this post I’m going to share some of the activities that I used this past year working with this vocabulary as well as the present perfect.  The chapter also focused on Spain for the “cultural element”, but I will save those activities for another post.

We started with a review of sports they already knew from earlier levels; I did this using a partner conversation with this Conversación Repaso de los deportes que ya sabemos We then made lists of sports we didn’t know how to say, but would like to know.  To keep them thinking, I showed a couple of videos.  For the Doki Descubre video, they were listening for all familiar words related to sports.   Of course we also had to talk about Fútbol and the huge success of Spain, so I showed parts of this video Continuing with Spain and sports, we also looked at these videos, sharing words we knew, and words we were learning.  

The next day I started class with an activity that I call “Levántate”, where everyone must stand up.  Before they can sit down, they have to give me a sport (in Spanish, of course) without repeating what has already been said.  To keep everyone focused on the task, if they have given me a sport and have taken a seat and I feel that they are no longer paying attention, I call on them and they have to repeat the last sport said.  If they can not do that, they must stand up again.  Obviously in this activity all hands go up immediately because they are eager to say one of the easier sports before someone else can say it.  Depending on the size of the class and what has been shared, when we get to the last 2 – 3 people, I allow their classmates to help, as necessary.  We then go into a conversational type activity combining sports and the present perfect, but I do not refer AT ALL to the present perfect.  They just talk with their partners using the paper as a guide.  It has been my experience that they do not question an unfamiliar structure as long as there is a model to use. Another partner activity is having students work with a page of sports pictures, and practice completing the sentences orally,  using the new vocabulary, as in these examples:

An activity that I use several times during the course of a school year is Walk Around Bingo.  Everyone has a bingo sheet, no English is allowed, and I give the class 4 – 5 minutes to literally walk around to classmates and ask a question on the bingo sheet to another classmate.  If the classmate is able to answer the question affirmatively using  Sí, he jugado/escalado/comido, etc., he/she write his initials in the box.  If the answer is no, he/she may not write initials in the box. Depending on the size of the class, a student may only write his initials on the paper of that particular student once (larger classes) or twice (smaller classes). I walk around the room monitoring the use of Spanish.  If I hear English, I write the name of the student on my paper, and they know that they will receive a zero for the activity.  After 4 – 5 minutes, I call stop, and have them count how many boxes have initials, and have them check if they have a bingo (vertical, horizontal or four corners).  If many students have bingoes, I collect the papers and randomly draw “winners”.  Of course, I also have to verify with the students who have initialed the boxes if they indeed have done what the box says. Sometimes it turns out that the initialed students did not do what was in the box, much to the dismay of the student who asked the question, because then they do not have a bingo!  Present Perfect Walk Around Bingo 

Another activity I used, one that I’ve talked about before is Toca ( span 3 chap 2A TOCA ) In this game, played in pairs, I call a vocabulary word/phrase and the first partner to touch the picture scores a point.  Partners alternate taking turns.  I described it fully here

Students also enjoy playing this board game with sports (full directions here) :Los Deportes game board Question-Card-Template Set A Los Deportes  Question-Card-Template-set B Los Deporte

Continuing with sports, I then did a full presentation of jai-alai and then a mini lesson on la corrida de toros, but they will have to wait for a later post, since the amount of material I created and covered would make this already very long post, really long!

For the friends vocabulary, we first discussed with partners what makes a good friend/bad friend.  As they talked, I kept a running list of words that they were requesting for which they didn’t have the vocabulary.  I introduced new vocabulary with this powerpoint: Span. 3 Chap 2B Vocabulario…pictures2  

Another topic for conversation, which incorporated both the new vocabulary as well as continuing work with the present perfect,  was “¿Qué has hecho con tus amigos hoy?”

Once students had become familiar with the new vocabulary for friends, I projected this image on the SMARTboard and had them discuss their friendships in small groups, using the words on the board.

Individually they worked with a friend survey, modeled on an activity in the text span 3 chap 2 Una encuesta de amistad-1 and shared results with partners. Working again with a partner, they talked about qualities for good friends and bad friends, and completed this:

Additionally, there are so many wonderful clips and songs in Spanish that relate to friends.  Here are several that I used, some with cloze activities, some just listening for specific words, some just for enjoyment.         

There just is so much we can do with this great topics.  I’ve shared some things that I like and with which I have found success.  I’d love to hear from you.  What activities have you used?

Getting students to talk

It shouldn’t be a secret that I am no fan of textbooks.  However, a textbook is what most districts have, and mine is no different.  Most of the language teachers in the district follow the textbook, and I must ensure that my students will be prepared to move to the next level with a teacher who will be using the textbook.  Over the span of many years, I have devised a way to incorporate most of the vocabulary in the textbook and most of the grammatical concepts taught (but not necessarily in the order that the text presents them), so that my students will not be at a disadvantage when moving on.  On the other hand, we do not use the physical book at all; I don’t even give the textbooks out at the beginning of the year.  My focus is on getting my students to talk, and talk, and talk some more.  This essential part of communication is my primary focus in Spanish III, and I use all kinds of methods to achieve my goal.  In this post I am going to highlight some of the activities that I used this past year.  According to my textbook outline, this was the “travel” unit, with two long lists of “travel” vocabulary (with several words that refer to things that the students will never use, such as cheques de viajero or cabina telefónica).  The grammatical concepts included “reviewing preterite and imperfect”, and beginning the present subjunctive with verbs of wishing, desire, recommending, etc (essentially querer, preferir, esperar, sugerir, aconsejar, recomendar). I added many, many songs, including songs that highlight the subjunctive.  We also worked with maps and geography, and this year I was able to do this repeatedly due to our new laptop carts that allow each student access to a laptop.  Students moved at their own pace, moving on when they felt they were ready to advance a level.   Here are some of the links that my students used to practice

At this point, it may help to describe the physical setup of my classroom.  I have my desks in two  “u” formations,  an inner “u” and an outer “u”, so that I can have partners behind/in front, to the left or to the right, and my personal favorite, the “moving u”, when the students in the outer “u” slide to the seat to the left every 30 seconds to 2 minutes so that there is always a new partner.  While I think it is important for students to work with classmates with whom they are comfortable, I believe that it is equally important for them to work with everyone (or they would elect to work with the same people each time).  The “moving u” assures me that weaker students work with stronger students, that girls work with boys and that friends do not become dependent on the stronger friend (language wise) to accomplish the work. With all of the oral communicative practice that my students do, I almost always have them changing partners frequently.

Looking back at my lesson plans for this chapter (Chapter 10) from this past year, here are some of the activities that I used to get my students to talk.  One of the first things that I had students do with a partner was to describe, in Spanish, what the typical tourist looks like.  I then showed them some images of a turista and had them describe the tourist to their partner. After listing additional vocabulary on the board (some that were in the official list for the chapter and other words that were at student request), I had each student draw a tourist.  The next day, they first described the their picture to a partner, then they described the picture of their partner (exchanging partners several times).

Since travel involves eating (Chapter 7) and clothes (Chapter 8),  weather and places (Chapter 9), we did some review conversation with those topics as well as a preliminary conversation about travel desires: After working with a partner, I would take a volunteer to sit in the “Hot Seat” in front of the classroom and the class would then ask that one student questions related to that days conversation topic.  I only allow 4 minutes for this and I keep track of each student who asks a question.  Participation points are given for this activity, with the person in the “Silla Caliente” always receiving an A (assuming that every effort has been made to answer the questions).

After reviewing clothes, we also did a suitcase activity one day.  In groups of four, I gave them a large piece of paper on which I had drawn an open suitcase.  I gave each group a list of items (specific quantities, colors, etc) that had to be drawn in the suitcase.  Each student was given two colors and they were responsible for drawing all of the items that were listed as their color.  Students then had to talk about the items in the suitcase and say how/when each item would be used or would be necessary.

“Intruder” is another activity that I like to use infrequently.  In this “game”, the class is divided into 4 small groups.  Each group sends a member to the front of the room and I give each of them a big colorful paper with a word or phrase in Spanish.  The four students hold the four words/phrases and the class (individual students) has to pick which of the four words is the intruder, or the word that does not belong with the other three words.  This is a great thinking activity, because while there may be one obvious answer, there are also multiple additional answers, making it possible that any of the four words may be the intruder. After the student says which word is the intruder, and why  (in Spanish), I give the team a point; sometimes if their thinking has really been quite outside the box and has involved some deep explanation, I may give more than a point.  I continue with those four words until all reasonable explanations have been exhausted, and then a new student from each team comes to the front of the room and I give them four new words.  Intruder

As students begin to master the vocabulary, I give Student A a paper with directions that say to describe the following words in Spanish to Student B, with the object being that Student B must come up with the appropriate vocabulary word in Spanish. For example:
A. Describe las palabras a tu compañero. ¡No hables inglés! Usa palabras de español y puedes hacer gestos (gestures).
1. botones
2. pagar
3. en efectivo
4. castillo
5. firmar
6. plano de la ciudad
7. recepcionista
8. entrada
9. gratis
10.hospedarse en OR quedarse

Student B would receive a similar paper with different words:

B. Describe las palabras a tu compañero. ¡No hables inglés! Usa palabras de español y puedes hacer gestos (gestures).
1. cámara digital
2. farmacia
3. oficina de turismo
4. pedir información
5. tomar un taxi
6. turista
7. tarjeta de crédito
8. billete
9. guía turística
10. albergue juvenil

Picture description is another activity for getting students to talk with a partner.  In groups of two, each student is given a paper with a set of pictures.  Both students have different papers/pictures.  With the partner, I may have them describe the pictures, identify the vocabulary, or create some oral mini story using the pictures.  Here is an example:  Actividades de vacaciones partner practice

I also have them work with just one image.  Without allowing their partner to see the image, Student A describes, in Spanish, to Student B what is on the image.  Student B must draw it.  Student A  sees this image to describe to Student B:

Student B would receive this image to describe to Student A:

And more picture work: Practicamos más con el vocabulario

At some point last year, in a  blog that is a favorite of mine,  Mis Musicuentos, SE Cottrell suggested having students repeat lists of vocabulary words to themselves.  She thought that this would help with pronunciation (and the intimidation that students sometimes feel about using unfamiliar words in front of their peers) as well as reinforce the words.  One day students would read through the list of words (aloud) three times, the next day twice, and the third day just once.  I found this to be a great way to practice with the vocabulary, and because there was so much noise in the classroom, just about every student did as I asked them to do.  This then lead to another conversation with a partner, but this time it was a bit more extended, and it involved some manipulation of the present subjunctive.  Partner conversation and beginning work subjunctive

Here is another partner practice activity : And finally, a version of the Amazing Race can be played.  Working with a partner, students are given a “clue” (really a sentence (or sentences) that requires an answer) and when they have solved it, they return to me, or a designated spot, to receive their next “clue”.  Here is a sample of clues for this travel chapter:  Amazing race sentences

While I’m not out of activities that I used in this chapter to get my students to talk, it has turned into a very lengthy post, and I’m going to end it here.  I would welcome feedback…questions, suggestions, etc.



Somos el mundo: three variations,r:20,s:0

A year and a half ago, in the span of less than two months, tragedy in the form of an earthquake struck both Haiti and Chile.  This past spring, it was Japan.  The world responded in many ways.  For my classes, we followed the news with multiple videos and written accounts in Spanish.  We also focused on the song “We are the World”.  Students in 2010 were enamored of the song that was redone using big name celebrities of today:  Usher, Kanye, Justin Bieber, Pink, and Celine Dion are just a few of the 81 who got together to record the song that Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote in 1985.  At just about the same time, I learned that Emilio y Gloria Estefan were also working on a version in Spanish, called “Somos el Mundo”.  As soon as both the new English and the new Spanish versions were released, I had a new lesson plan, one that I expanded upon this year. I spent parts (never the entire period) of four classes using the various activities that I developed.

We began by viewing the 1985 original, the 2010 version in English, and then the 2010 version in Spanish.  We spent a good deal of time reviewing the lyrics in English and comparing them to the Spanish lyrics.  letras Somos el mundo       We also compared the artists who sang the various parts in the 1985 original, the 2010 English and the 2010 Spanish.  This was an interesting activity for the students since many of the 1985 artists were artists that they had heard of by name, but didn’t recognize, and many of the Spanish artists were familiar but just as many were new to them.  We did a cloze activity with the Spanish lyrics Somos el mundo fill in  Once we had worked with the Spanish version several times, we also played a game that I developed from an idea at EFL Classroom 2.0  I chose to use this in an attempt to cement some of the vocabulary for the students.  Here is the game template and the playing cards that go with it, full instructions are with the game template.  Somos el mundo game board  Question-Card-Template Set A  Question-Card-Template-set B

We sang the Spanish song multiple times in class, as well as the newest English version.  We discussed geography and culture of the countries affected.  After several days of exposure to the videos, I had the students complete a comparison of the three versions.  At this point in time, I already knew that they preferred the 1985 version to the 2010 version, and more than half of each of the Spanish III classes thought that the Spanish version was more inspirational and emotional.  We are the world 3 song comparison   The last activity that I had the students do was a reflection on the three versions.  This was assigned as homework and collected a few days later.  Las 3 versiones de We are the world Reaccion As I mentioned in an earlier post,  a group of students chose to sing “Somos el Mundo” at the induction ceremony for our chapter of La Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica.  Additionally, I had several students choose to work with this song for their performance assessment in the music/social awareness unit.

Through these activities students were exposed to very useful vocabulary, learned a great deal about various Spanish artists, and were able to make some relevant comparisons between English and Spanish.  Lastly, the song “Somos el Mundo” became part of the iPod rotation for many of them, creating a lasting connection for them.

A video for toddlers, classical music, high school Spanish and the preterite and imperfect?

Sometimes we tend to moan and groan about professional development and how it is worthless.  We have been lucky in this county to have two dedicated supervisors (one from Salisbury University and one from the county)  who have offered Saturday professional development workshops for language teachers once a month for several years.  In one of these workshops, about 5 years ago, the designated topic was videos and how to use them.  One of the many recommendations was the series developed by HBO called Classical Baby,  which contains three videos, one for classical music, one for art and one for dance.

We (Spanish and French teachers) looked at several clips and brainstormed ways to use them.  The clip that appealed to me the most was from Classical Baby Dance called The Hippo Dance.  The music is Duke Ellington’s version of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.  Ellington’s version is called Sugar Rum Cherry.  So, what, you might ask, does a high school teacher do with a video for toddlers?  I found The Hippo Dance an excellent way to continue working with the Spanish preterite and imperfect, something that my students always need to continue practicing and reviewing.  Despite what we may be working on at any point in time, I’m frequently injecting past tense review without calling it the past tense, or the preterite or the imperfect.

Before I go through the steps that I use with the video I should say that my 50 minutes of class with my students always involves multiple activities, and I usually do not spend more than 10 minutes on any one thing.  Therefore, my activities with The Hippo Dance take place over several days.

  1. The first day that I plan to use the video class begins with a partner review of some of the verbs that they will need for the activities with the video. In groups of two, I give them  2 – 3 minutes to put the desired verbs in both the preterite and imperfect.  I know that this is a rote activity, but it is important that they are reminded of the verbs before we begin the activities with The Hippo Dance.    hipo 1 repaso verbos
  2. We watch the video with no direction given from me (it is 2 minutes in length). They usually are enchanted….I don’t think that the word enchanted is too strong for their first reaction!
  3. I ask them to list colors in the video, rooms of the house in the video, verbs that would apply to the video, etc.   With their partners, they use this brainstorming activity to describe what happened in the video.  As they request words that we haven’t had, such as “timer”, I write them on the board.  At the end of a minute or two, I ask for volunteer sentences.  After that, we move on to something else.
  4. The next day one of the partner activities will be to identify the chores in the pictures, and to talk about chores they did as a child, and chores they did last week (2 -3 minutes).  Los Quehaceres
  5. We watch the video again.  Working with their partner, the students work through  guided questions orally, with an emphasis on verbs in the preterite and imperfect (¿Quién regó las plantas?  ¿Dónde estaba el niño?  ¿Cuándo la mamá estaba pasando la aspiradora, qué hizo el niño?).  pret imp questions for El baile de los hipos   Combining with another group, the group of four now writes answers.  I like for all of them to write, and when the timer goes off, I have the group put all the papers together in one pile and I randomly pick one.  All the people in that group write their names on the paper, and that is the one paper that I will assess.  Whatever the form of assessment, it will apply to all of the names on the paper….that keeps them all working, instead of just the one person writing.  This concludes activity for the second day. (10 minutes)
  6. On day three I ask them to tell the story of The HIppo Dance to a new partner.  We then watch the video for a final time.  The students then work once more with that partner to put the story in order El baile de los hipos pon en orden       
  7. El Baile de los Hipos tarea    This last assignment is an individual homework assignment that will receive a formal assessment.
  8. New for this upcoming year, I think that I will add another homework assignment after day two that will use audioboo, an excellent oral assessment tool.  I will ask them to tell me the chores they had to do when they were younger, and what chores they did last week; so essentially I will be asking them to repeat what was the warm up activity with a partner from day two.  Their recording should be between 30 – 60 seconds.

I purchased the entire series, music, art and dance, and have used several of the videos.  To give you an idea of what it sounds and looks like, I’ve embedded two videos: the audio is the first clip, the video is the second ( the second has no sound and The Hippo Dance begins at the 7:59 mark and ends at 10:00).

If you would like an idea of what the sound and video are like together, here are some more samples below