Tuesday, December 13, 2011

El Tablón de Anuncios

There is a bulletin board outside my classroom that has been unused for most of this year.  There was a poster advertising a school dance and one promoting a school trip to China, but that was about it.  So I decided to take it upon myself to decorate it and to put a little seasonal cheer up there for everyone to enjoy.

I wanted it to be seasonal but not so heavily Christmas as to exclude people who celebrate other holidays this time of year, so I chose the legend of the poinsettia as a theme.  That way it is educational, cultural, and seasonal all at once!  I made the paper poinsettias with one of my classes, then I printed the legend and put up silver wrapping paper as a background.  (I had wanted gold but silver was all the drugstore had that day.)  Then I added the poinsettia garland to the top and the bottom and voila!  It sure is better than looking at an old cork board every day.

And the really nice thing is that I had a couple of teachers comment and a few others send emails to let me know they appreciated the effort.  Knowing that I made a couple of people smile makes me feel warm and happy.

Hasta pronto,


Friday, December 9, 2011

La Flor de la Noche Buena

One of the best things about being a foreign language teacher is the ability to celebrate holidays and seasonal events while still staying within the confines of the curriculum. I know that other teachers can do this as well, of course. I'm always amazed by the creativity of math teachers and science teachers especially, but celebrating the holidays and still sticking to the curriculum is easy for us foreign language teachers.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico and there is a sweet little legend about them as well. The story has to do with giving gifts with love and a pure heart - perfect for Christmas season without having to get too religious.

Teaching students the legend of the poinsettia and having them make their own poinsettias is a perfect thing to do after a hard test or, in our case, a midterm exam.  Add in a little música navideña and it's almost a fiesta in your classroom!

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, December 8, 2011

How to Use Vocabulary Flashcards to Best Effect

This is an article I wrote for my students and their parents. I find that quite a few people don't really know how to use vocabulary flashcards well. Holding them up and guessing is not the best strategy, after all. The article is all printed up nicely and saved as a PDF if you would like to download and print it for for your students too. Download it here: How to Use Vocabulary Flashcards to Best Effect.

Make Your Own Cards

The first step is to make the flashcards yourself.  The process of making them will help you review the words and their meanings.  Use heavy cardstock or construction paper.  Index cards will work too if you don’t have cardstock or construction paper.  Colored index cards work best for a couple of reasons: 1) You won’t be able to see the writing on the other side of the card, and 2) You can organize the cards by color according subject or difficulty.

Use Pictures

The best flashcards are those that use pictures or definitions in Spanish instead of an English translation.  (There will not be any English on our quizzes, tests, or exams!)  However, some words defy our ability to express them easily in picture or definition form.  In those cases go ahead and use English on one side of the card.  Spanish should be on the other side of the card and, in the case of nouns, the word el or la should be included.

Go from General to Specific

To go through the flashcards, you should begin with the entire stack and look at the Spanish side of the cards.  As you go through, take out the cards for which you already know the answers then go through the stack again.  Keep doing this until your stack is very small and you feel like you know all the words.  Shuffle them all and go through the big stack again to make sure.

Generate the SPANISH Word

Next go through the stack with the English (or picture) side up and see if you can generate the Spanish words.  This is much harder but is a better indication if you really know the vocabulary or not.  Again, remove the cards you know and keep going through as the stack gets smaller and smaller.

Use the Word in Context

The last, and most important, step is to see if you can use the word in a sentence once you know its meaning.  For example, if the vocabulary word is el pingüino (penguin), knowing that it means penguin in English is a good first step.  But since our vocabulary assessments do not have English on them, knowing how to use it in a sentence is crucial.  You might create a sentence like El pingüino vive en Antárdida (The penguin lives in Antarctica.).  This shows an understanding of the word and moves you toward the essential step of being able to use the language to express thoughts and ideas.

I hope you and your students find the advice useful.

Hasta pronto,


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Idiomas Extranjeros en Todo el Currículo

As the state of North Carolina looks toward implementation of the Common Core and the Essential Standards over the next few years, as a department we have been charged with making comparisons to the old and the new curriculum and reviewing our lessons, our materials, and our assessments.

I do wonder about all the hype sometimes. Honestly, it seems as though they just invent new ways of saying the same thing. No matter what we call it, we will still be teaching the students vocabulary, culture, structure, pronunciation, listening, etc. Still, I do like that there is a large component of the new standards that has to do with cross-curricular content. And I believe that foreign language teachers are in an especially good position to bring content from other disciplines into our lessons. After all, if it can be done, it can be done in Spanish too!

I intend to revisit this topic in the future as new ideas occur to me, but for now here are some preliminary thoughts on how to connect Spanish to other curricular content.
  • English/Language Arts: grammar structures, literary analysis, poetry, the writing cycle, creative writing
  • Science: famous scientists from the Spanish-speaking world, weather and climate in Spanish-speaking countries, flora and fauna in South America, ecotourism
  • Health/PE: parts of the body vocabulary, health and wellness vocabulary, Latin dance
  • History: Spanish colonization of the Americas, Native American culture/civilizations (Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, etc.), geography, cartography, international relations, current events in the Spanish-speaking world, traditional cultural celebrations
  • Math: currency conversion, the Metric System, the Aztec calendar
  • The Arts: Latin music and dance (salsa, merengue, cumbia . . .), famous artists (Picasso, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Salvador Dalí, Velazquez . . . ), traditional arts and crafts (textiles, paper mache, masks . . . ), plays and skits in Spanish
And that is a good start, I think. Really, there is little I can think of in the Spanish curriculum that does not cross over into other curricular areas - especially in to history and the arts. I will have to put a little more thought into math, science, and health. I welcome your ideas too. Feel free to leave a comment.

Hasta pronto,


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tu Falta de Ortografía

I'm thrilled to have found Zambombazo website and equally thrilled to share it here with you today - just in case you haven't already come across it yourself.

Zambombazo is a website that is updated regularly with songs, news, video, and cartoons from around the Spanish-speaking world.  And, as if that were not enough, there are teacher-ready activities there that go along with all these wonderful bits of authentic language.
The site describes itself thus:
Una variada oferta de actividades divertidas basadas en productos culturales auténticos (videoclips, canciones, tiras, noticieros, etc.) en las que se pretende aprender por descubrimiento sobre el idioma español y las culturas del mundo hispanohablante.
I sincerely recommend a visit if you have not yet been there.  There are commercial products available on the page and I can only imagine (given the quality of the free materials on the page) that they are good, but I am not associated with them in any way.  Nor have I yet had the opportunity to purchase them myself, though I intend to do so when the opportunity avails itself after the Christmas spending season draws to a close. *sigh*

Specifically what I found over at Zambombazo today and wanted to share with you was a delightful song and accompanying cloze activity.  The song is called Tu Falta de Ortografía and is by Adalberto Álvarez y su Son.  It has a Caribbean sound and rhythm and the pronunciation is very good for students.  The theme of the song has to do with a break up letter and the bad spelling and punctuation in it.  The Spanish teacher in me could not stop laughing!  

But the best part is the activity sheet which is already made up for you.  It is a review of preterite and imperfect and has the bonus of the little spelling and punctuation lessons contained in the song.  The folks at Zambombazo have done all the work for us.  Just print, copy and ¡Zas!  ¡Lección instantánea!  It gives me a warm feeling inside, really.

 They have the song online at Zambombazo already however, if you would like to see the group perform it on stage, here is a link to the same song on YouTube.

Hasta pronto,


Monday, December 5, 2011

Ven a Bailar - Mandatos Infomales con Jennifer Lopez

While I was listening to music last night, Jennifer Lopez's song Ven a Bailar came on and it occurred to me that there are quite a few informal commands in the song - both affirmative and negative forms as well.  Since we have been focused on commands in Spanish III, I thought that doing a "fun" activity with this song might be the perfect culminating activity and would feature authentic input.  Not only that, but the song is so popular right now that I know the kids would really enjoy it.

So I found a copy of the lyrics and made a cloze activity.  Then I decided to add some practice and some discussion questions to make it a little more thorough and interesting.  I formatted, revised, corrected, and made it into a PDF.  Then presto!  I have uploaded it here for you (and your students) to enjoy!

I recommend that you go to iTunes and purchase the song.  It is well worth the $1.29 and you won't have delays with streaming or connectivity.  However, it is available on YouTube if you are so inclined.

Words of Warning:
  • I did not transcribe the section of the song that Pitbull sings.  At one point he does mention tequila so, if that is a problem, be aware of it.
  • Also, when downloading the song, make sure you get the Spanish version (Ven a Bailar) and not the English version (On the Floor).

I hope this activity is fun and educational.  Leave a comment if you find it useful.  I'd love to hear from you!

Hasta pronto,

Image Sources:


Thursday, December 1, 2011

¿Fuimos a una Barra?

Go ahead.  Ask me how it is that I took my 4th period to a bar.  You know you want to ask . . . 

Well, it's rather simple actually.  One Wednesday per month my AP Spanish class goes off campus to the Wake Forest Coffee Company, a local hot spot just five minutes from the school where we sit down and discuss literature and politics over coffee - in Spanish, of course.

As we walked inside, it was quickly apparent that the coffee shop was filled almost to capacity.  There were no tables available that could accommodate my three students and me.  The barrista told me not to worry that there was overflow seating upstairs.  That seemed ideal since it would be quieter upstairs and we would have more room to spread out with our iPads, textbooks, and peer-edited rough drafts. 

What I did not know what that upstairs was actually a wine shop.  This became clear as we reached the op of the stairs and came face-to-face with wine racks filled with countless bottles of wine.  There were high tables surrounded by bar stools and, yes - a bar, complete with bottles, glasses, and a bar tender.

I had to make a quick decision.  We could cancel our field trip and return to school, or we could utilize the space.  There were no patrons upstairs, and no one anywhere was serving, drinking, or interacting with wine in any way.  I decided that we would laugh it off and stay.  In the end I don't suppose it matters whether we are upstairs or downstairs; we weren't going to engage in any inappropriate beverage consumption regardless.  It just struck me as hilarious.  The places life takes you!

And, in case you are wondering, we were upstairs the whole 90 minutes.  No other patrons came upstairs and no wine was out at any time.  We had plenty of space for our peer edits and we read four pages of Jaque Mate en Dos Jugadas by Isaac Aisemberg.  I "confessed" to my principal this morning because I certainly didn't want him to hear the story from anyone else first.

I will have to come up with a backup plan for January's trip to the coffee shop - just in case.  Once is a funny story.  Twice would be . . . malo.

Hasta pronto,