Class Activities

#FridayBeforeSpringBreak: Game Day!

Or, alternatively, how to ace your observation with minimal prep on the day before a break 🙂

With the high absenteeism typical for the day before a break, today was the perfect day to pull out my collection of games! I divided students into groups of four or five and after a brief intro, gave each group one of the following games to play. I walked around, answered questions, and played along! It was the perfect #fridaybeforespringbreak. 🙂

The games:

  1. As, Dos, Tres.  – a counting game I learned in Costa Rica, kind of like War or ERS.
  2. Pensante – a few years ago a friend gave me a copy of Pensante, which is basically Spanish scrabble. I handed the game to one group along with a stack of dictionaries. I let them make up their own rules from there (trading letters, taking as many as they wanted, hunting for words in the dictionary…) as long as they played words in Spanish.
  3. Lotería – I found a couple of sets of Lotería in the department’s supply closet last May. What??? Why aren´t these being used? Well, I opened one up and realized it was probably because some of the pictures aren’t quite school appropriate – El borracho? El negrito? And really, La sirenita, would it be too much to put some sea shells on? So I cut up a few cards and taped them back together until I had 10 school appropriate lotería cards, and Voila! a station 🙂
  4. Verba – I have one “real” set and one print & play set I printed, laminated, and laboriously cut apart during post planning last summer at our local Teacher’s Resource Center. My students really enjoyed it! I just told them it was like Spanish Apples to Apples or Cards against humanity, and they took it from there. I used it in two big groups yesterday in Spanish 1 after my students finished a test, but I think it was even better in the small groups (4-5) that we did today.
    Big groups for Verba in Spanish 1
  5. Spot it – I started class today previewing spot it vocab with this set on Quizlet. I printed out some flash cards and had students cut them into a matching game, we ran through a few rounds of Scatter, and played some Quizlet live. Then I called a representative from each group and demo’d with them how to play. So fun! I gave the game to one group, along with a print out of the vocab from Quizlet. They were really into it!
These pictures do not adequately convey the intensity of this game!
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.

Class Activities, Spanish 2

Logistics for La Persona Especial

One of the best decisions I made this semester was to try La Persona Especial/La estrella del día in Spanish 2. When I first started it I was doing all kinds of duplicate work, but I’ve managed to streamline the process since then. Today I want to share in detail how I execute La Persona Especial, how I assess it, and the steps I take to make it fair for all students.

The interviews

Many students are reluctant to get up in front of the class, but I’ve found a few strategies that have been working well to persuade some students.

  • Ask them. Asking them while we do our warm up or the day before gives students a chance to consent without feeling the pressure of an audience and also gives them a chance to prepare – both mentally, or by looking over their Estrella handout we filled out the first week of class. I also throw in some carrots – C’mon, I know you’re going to do a great job. Please? I really need to do an interview today. I’d love to hear from you. And it’s a ONE HUNDRED in the grade book? Pleeeeeeassee? After their interview, I make sure to congratulate them individually and tell them how well they did.
  • Let them take a buddy. If they like, I let a friend sit next to them and whisper translations in their ear. I’ve also done paired interviews – two students go up together, sit in my chairs (the stool/my rolly desk chair – it makes them feel special :)), and take turns answering questions.

During the interviews, I use this slide show I adapted slightly from Kara Jacobs (one of my new year’s resolutions is to use more resources from Kara. She’s an inspiration!). I change it slightly every few weeks, sometimes to try to elicit new and more interesting details, or just to work in a few questions to reinforce vocab from our current unit. I stand at the front and question and click through the slides, or I ask a student to click through the slides and I stand at the back (this helps with classroom management). I set up a secretary on my desktop computer to take notes in a google doc (I have my secretarias trained now and they do great, I just come back and edit when they finish, which is much less work than typing it all myself for two different classes on my planning period). The google doc is embedded on my class website and updates instantly. So if you’re absent, no excuse — all the info is posted online!

The review

I usually do two or three interviews a week, and do a “People Quiz” every other Friday. Before each new interview I review previous interviews. A couple different options:

  • High prep: I used to make slide shows for each person with a picture. This worked well – I would ask the questions, students respond chorally, and then I show the answer on the slide show, but making these was too much work, so I stopped.
  • Medium prep: Sometimes, I copy the interview information into another google doc and delete details. So I project a list with things like Le gusta la película ____________. I ask questions and students respond chorally.
  • Lazy: I run through the questions slide show linked above and just ask the questions. Students respond chorally.

I think the high prep option gets the best results, but the benefit is marginal enough not to merit the extra work. If only I had a student assistance….alas, I do not, so it’s the lazy low prep option for now.


Quiz review

Once I have all the interviews done that are going to be on the quiz (usually 4), I copy and paste all the information into a new google doc. I use the “Sorted Paragraph” add-on to alphabetize (aka scramble) the sentences and number them. I divide students into groups and project the statements on the board, and students decide in their groups which person (or people) each statement describes. I have them trade papers to grade, and give out stickers to every group who got a 100. Here’s the one I used today. I do this activity in two classes, and both are included in the doc. The sneaky part?  This becomes my question bank. I copy and paste into a word document, delete vague statements until I’m down to 33 (the magical number that fits on one page), format, and print. DONE.

This week I tried another pre-quiz review strategy that was really fun. Yesterday I printed out the bios for each of the four stars. Students were divided into groups and given one bio and piece of white paper. On their paper, I asked them to draw a visual representation of their assigned persona especial. I posted the finished drawings on the wall for students to view/admire, and then scanned them on my planning period (I discovered my copier will let me scan multiple pages through the top feeder slot and will save as a PDF on a flash drive. EASY PEASY). I projected the scanned drawings today and used that as the base for my oral review. So fun!

estrella dibujo
Se llama Dillan. Tiene 17 años. Su cumpleaños es el 8 de octubre. Vive en Euharlee. Tiene dos gatos que se llaman Brody y Tyrone. Le gusta escuchar música rap y le gusta el rapero 21 Savage. Le gusta ir de pesca. Su clase favorita es la historia. Si pudiera ser un animal, sería un delfin. Tiene miedo de la oscuridad. Si tuviera un superpoder, tendría el poder de superfuerza.
Class Activities

Fresh start: First day of Spanish 2

This is my first year teaching on block schedule, and I have to say that I am LOVING this January fresh start! Today was my first day with new students – 2 sections of Spanish II in the morning and 1 section of Spanish I in the afternoon. I got off on a really bad foot with Spanish 2 in August, and I have to say I did much better today. Here’s what we did:


1. Find assigned seats. I ALWAYS assign seats and have tried several different systems. This semester I added numbers to my desks and to my seating chart and it went soooo much better – no one sitting in the wrong seat! I stood in the doorway and greeted each student, asked their name in Spanish, and told them their number in Spanish. Bonus: taking role is a breeze – just see which desks are empty!

I had to use the restroom between first and second period so I locked the kids out until I came back. I wanted to be there when they first entered my room to greet them and tell them where to sit! I think everyone is more comfortable when they have an assigned seat from the start rather than sitting somewhere and then being moved later.

2. Name cards. This helps me learn names and is also an easy way to start out class in Spanish. Levanta la tarjeta. Baja la tarjeta. Levanta el marcador. Baja el marcador. Levanta el marcador y la tarjeta. Baja la tarjeta. Baja el marcador. Levanten los marcadores rojos…. I’m super positive and encouraging throughout the activity and it sets a great tone for the class.

3. Interest inventory – I copied this from one I saw posted on the Creative Language Class. I take them up as students finish and read them right away – if I don’t read them in class, they often don’t get read. I like to focus in on their responses to what do you think you’ll make in this class?, what do you want to learn in this class? and anything else I need to know? IEPs and 504s don’t always make it to me in time, and I really want to know from the first day of class if a student is diabetic or pregnant. I like What do you think you’ll make in this class? so that I know from the beginning which students I need to focus more attention on (they usually answer honestly!). In Spanish 2, I added the question, Are you interested in taking Spanish 3?  so that I can make sure that those students know the grade requirements for taking Spanish 3, and also so I can provide a few extra grammar explanations/activities for them to make sure that they are successful with the Spanish 3 teacher.

3. Syllabus – I’m on an 80 minute block, there’s plenty of time to do this and CI too.

4. The speech – “If you took Spanish 1 last semester these next two weeks will be really easy. If you took Spanish 1 last year, this time is for you. Here is what I need to make sure you know before we move on to new material…”


You shall not pass Spanish 2 if you can’t respond when I ask you ¿Cómo estás?

This is the part that I really messed up last semester. I took some resources my department gave me – a long list of verbs and some conjugation worksheets – and ran with it. It was awful. Too many words, too much decontextualized grammar, too much explanation, too much output and not enough input. Grades were predictably bad. The year before I had taught all Spanish 1s, and before that I was my own department and did what I wanted (and knew exactly what every single one of my Spanish 2 students could do in Spanish). With one semester of Spanish 2 with department curriculum behind me, I know what students need to learn to pass the county final exam, and I feel more confident to tailor my classes to my students’ needs, interests and abilities, while still hitting department requirements. The grammar we can review more slowly as we go along, and all those verbs? Not necessary (all that cramming didn’t help anyway). I have a much better idea of what they need to pass the final, and it’s not as much as what I did last semester. I can relax on some of the grammar (while making sure Spanish 3-bound students have it down) and focus on providing more comprehensible input.

Back to my lesson today: we copied a few basic phrases to support the goals listed above, and they ran through the questions and answers in Spanish with a partner. I started calling on students individually and asking them one of the questions – ¿Cómo estás? ¿Cuántos años tienes? ¿De dónde eres? When I got to ¿Qué te gusta hacer? it got a lot more interesting. Some students remembered words from Spanish 1 – Me gusta correr. Me gusta nadar. Some didn’t, and I helped them. I gestured and reviewed vocabulary as we went along, and found out what sport everyone played. It was fun! I expanded on answers where I could and told them my opinion on everything, gesturing for comprehensibility – No me gusta correr. ¡Me gusta comer! Me gusta cocinar y comer. No me gusta practicar deportes, pero me gusta hacer ejercicio. Me gusta caminar con mi perro y levantar pesas y bailar en mi clase de Zumba! No me gusta estudiar, pero estudio mucho para mi clase de internet… When I finished calling on everyone, I pulled up my “activity” vocab list on Quizlet – the verbs we actually learned and used last year. I went through each one with both Spanish and English showing (Spanish and a picture would have been better, but Spanish-English was what I had), and asked who liked each activity, continuing to circle and expand on answers.

5. La estrella de la semana – I know many teachers do “persona especial” interviews, but I really like how Kara explains her procedures. I had students fill out the handout she has linked in her post, and told them that we would be doing interviews throughout the semester, kind of like the discussion about likes and dislikes we had just had.

6. Closing – numbers review. With a few minutes left of class and most students done with their handouts, I needed something quick to fill the time. I pulled up Quizlet, froze the screen, and clicked through the numbers flashcards with the audio on, with students telling me the meaning in English. We did the same thing looking at the words spelled out.


I was very pleased with the amount of Spanish I was able to speak today, as well as the focus of our review, and the positive start. Hoping for my best Spanish 2s yet!

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.

Class Activities, Teaching Reflections

Survey on Silent Reading Time

My  Spanish 2 students have been doing silent reading for about 4 or 5 weeks now. Twice a week they grab a book or magazine and spend the first five minutes of class reading. I bought the books for my library with a grant awarded through a local education foundation. As the grant deadline is coming up again in October, I wanted to get some feedback from my students about our silent reading time. Here is the survey I gave my students. They answered anonymously:

fvr survey

Download here: FVR class survey

The feedback was mixed. First of all, only about half of the surveys were turned in. Not sure how that happened…

For questions 4 and 5 – Is reading a good use of class time/Do you enjoy reading time I had 13 positive responses, 8 mixed responses, and 6 negative responses.

For question 3 – What do you do during reading time – I had ten responses of “I read the whole time,” 12 “I read some of the time,” and 6 “I don’t read very much” (Including write ins of I daydream/I pretend to read).

The comments were the most interesting. For number 4 (Is reading a good use of class time? Why? Here are some of the positive responses:

“It helps me to learn Spanish”

“It helps me to see how words are spelled”

“You see words that are brought up in regular class” 

“It shows you how to connect words”

“We learn new words and see how they are used”

“It helps me recognize the words I know. I recognize words every time I read and use clues to figure our words I don’t know.”

“It gets us familiar with reading Spanish”

“Dialogue is simple to pick up from Spanish books”

“The conjugation of verbs in context of whole sentences”

And of course, some negative:

“[It’s not a good use of class time because] it’s five minutes of nothing.”

“[It’s not a good use of class time because] not a lot of [students] actually read”

“It’s boring”

“I don’t like to read”

And the constructive criticism:

“We need a helper when we’re stuck on a sentence so we can learn instead of ignoring

(I do shush them sometimes in the interest of preserving the silence).

I think I’m due for a talk with them, to go over the reasons why we’re reading, and also to share these comments – the positive to show them what they could be getting out of it, and the negative to discuss. Actually, according to the survey, most students are reading during reading time. And for the five minutes of nothing – I think we’ll talk about how motivation is the biggest factor in how successful you are in learning a foreign language. Yes, you can sit there and daydream and pretend to read, or you can apply yourself and see what you learn. The last comment – “We need a helper” – I think I can do that. Maybe I can make one day silent reading and one day partner reading (we will see how this goes – if it deteriorates into socialization instead of reading it will change back. If it works great, maybe we’ll make both days partner reading days). I think I’m going to encourage them to pick a novel to read with their partner, and maybe give a few book reviews to guide them toward the right book.

Class Activities

Sustained Silent Reading in Spanish Class

I did SSR today!

2015-08-24 16.19.30
My books! Many I purchased with a grant last year, some came from my personal collection, and there’s a pile at the bottom of the cart that came from the public library (I picked these up primarily for my 3 native speakers). Additionally, my school’s media specialist has another 10 or 20 waiting for me in the media center 🙂
2015-08-25 12.57.28
The pink “Novela” labels are there to help students put the books away neatly because I knew I would lose my mind if they ended up in a messy pile after SSR. I designated two students at the bookshelf and two at the cart to facilitate replacing the books post SSR and they did a very good job! #mindnotlost
2015-08-25 10.23.59
It’s important to me to have most of my books visible so students can browse and choose. I also wanted to have books available in several spots to facilitate traffic flow. I set these out right before class began and was able to pick them up quickly after SSR so they weren’t in the way during class.


I embedded a timer video from youtube on google slides so students could see both the timer and the instructions. Five minutes seemed like the right amount of time to start with – only one or two students needed re-directing. I’ll increase the time slowly over the course of the semester.