Monday, May 28, 2012

Culturally Relevant - a Challenge!

There are many textbooks, webpages, and services out there to provide vocabulary lists for students and teachers.  Most of them are thematic and by in large very bland.  It is even more rare that they give any thought to culture whatsoever.

I posted about this issue recently on my other blog (where I talk about my efforts toward weight loss and my efforts in tandem toward learning Portuguese).  The problem was that I had gotten a list of vocabulary for fruit but words like açaí, acerola, ameixa, caqui, castanha de cajú, cupuaçú, goiaba, graviola were not included in the list.  Instead the list had words for fruits which are common in the English-speaking world.  When I am in Brazil (And someday soon, I hope to be!), I probably will not have a great deal of need for words like cranberry, blueberry, plum, and pear.  It's not that those fruits never show up in Brazil; it's just that one is much more likely to run across goiaba (guava) than cranberry - since cranberry is a cold weather fruit.  

When I went to Mexico for the first time, despite my three and a half years of studies, I did not know the words nopal, chayote, guyava, posole, or jícama - just to name a few.  How is it that this never came up?  I didn't know about saint's days, quinceañeras, or that there was racial tension surrounding the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus.  Again I ask - how is it that this never came up?

In the Spanish-speaking world there is a great deal of diversity, which makes creating culturally relevant vocabulary a challenge.  My suggestion is that one culture be dealt with per unit and, theoretically over the course of two years language study, students have gained a wider appreciation for the cultures in which Spanish is spoken.  Obviously we can't cover everything but that should not prevent us from doing what we can.   Yes, the culture is vast and varied, but most of us can probably do a better job of bringing many aspects of it to light.

So my challenge to myself and my fellow Spanish teachers is to add five - eight culturally relevant vocabulary words to each list.  They should relate thematically to the rest of the vocabulary and should provide students a glimpse into the particular Spanish-speaking culture you are featuring in the unit.  Next, use the vocabulary to give examples when it comes to explaining grammar points, and in practice activities.

Can you do it?  Yes, of course you can!  You have all summer to think it over.  I will do the same and I hope to post my results here in the form of activities and Powerpoint presentations.

Hasta pronto,


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Un Error Muy Serio

Despite the title, I have not made any serious errors.  At least I am not aware of any at this time . . .

I decided to try my hand at making an LOL cat.  For anyone who might have missed this internet meme, LOL cats are pictures of cats with funny captions.  Most of the time the captions are made with poor spelling and grammar - my guess is that this is supposed to reflect the notion that cats do not have a good grip on the English language.

So my challenge in making one of these for my Spanish students was to make it funny without making it grammatically incorrect.  Challenge accepted!  (Another meme - I'll catch you up on that one later.)  The trick to making a funny LOL cat is not necessarily in making a silly message, but in finding a funny cat picture to start with.  How could this picture not be funny?

If I weren't so doggone busy right now, I would have made a little activity to accompany the picture and share that too.  But since time is limited and exams loom close, I'll just offer the suggestion that you use the picture as a springboard to review the present perfect tense, the irregular participle forms, or as a conversation topic for the preterite (Describe a time when you made a serious error . . . , etc.).

One of my students sent me the picture.  They are always sending these sorts of things along to me because they know my sense of humor and they think I'm a bit of a crazy cat lady.  *smile*  I tried to find the source of the original image so that I could credit it here, but this picture has taken the Internet by storm and there is no source listed for it anywhere.  I assume the kitty escaped the jar and is living happily somewhere now.

Hasta Pronto,


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Antes de las Vacaciones

I saw this funny cartoon over at Zambombazo today and had to chuckle a little bit.  I must say that some of the internet memes leave me scratching my head and wondering what I'm looking at - and the art is really awful, but I suppose the fact that it is so iconic is what makes it popular.  (Well, that is my theory anyway.)

I had not intended to blog about this today.  Instead I was going to pin the cartoon up at Pinterest, but I tried to pin it five times without success.  I don't know if they have an anti-pin script going on over there or what.  Maybe it's an issue of bandwidth?  Regardless, I downloaded the picture myself and figured I would give them credit here for it.

One of the great things about the Zambombazo site is that they put up activities to accompany the videos and images they share.  There is an activity to go along with this cartoon that includes a list of related vocabulary and a creative writing prompt.  What a great way to get students writing!  So much better than those ridiculous prompts in textbooks and workbooks.  You know the ones I'm talking about . . . You and your grandmother are in the supermarket.  Tell her all the things you want to buy and what aisles they can be found in.  (Really?  Is that the best you have got?  And why would I talk to my grandmother in Spanish anyway?)

I'm lucky that I teach at a year-round school.  My students won't have forgotten all their Spanish over the abbreviated summer vacation.  We'll be back in school mid July with most of our Spanish intact - I hope.

Hasta Pronto,


Monday, May 21, 2012

Arte como Terápia para Estudiantes con Necesidades Educativas Especiales

Tomorrow is the big day for seniors at my school - Senior Project Presentation Day!  The seniors have worked all year researching, writing up their findings, creating a product of learning, and tomorrow they do the presentations of their findings in front of a panel of four judges.  We will all be at school into the evening hours watching the presentations and judging who passes and who does not.  (Hopefully we won't have anyone in that second category this year.)

A few of the students have been researching topics related to foreign language, language acquisition, and even second language acquisition.  But I have none of that to share with you today, sadly.  However, one student published a video about using the arts as a means to reach special needs students as the product portion of his project.  I watched it and it was both professional and thought-provoking.  It makes me wonder how I could incorporate more creative instruction in my lessons.

Spanish ties in nicely with the arts, as I'm sure anyone reading here already knows.  Teaching the culture through the art is a no-brainer.  But there are ways that even something as mundane as vocabulary can be studied via art
  • Draw a little picture depicting each of these vocabulary terms
  • Take this clay and sculpt one of the vocabulary terms and see if your partner can guess what it is
  • Make a slide show with pictures you find that bring these terms to mind
  • Write a song or a chant in Spanish using these words
  • Do charades with the vocabulary and let us guess what you are acting out  
  • Choose a term on the list and make a sidewalk drawing depicting the word in a creative way and later we will take a gallery walk and learn our words as we stroll by and enjoy the art
And I imagine I could go on for quite awhile like that.  The good news is that these activities are the sorts that engage right-brain thinkers and kids who get bored with typical instruction.  These are the kinds of things that make students say, "We did something fun in Spanish today."  My younger colleagues would criticize and say that the above activities are not communicative . . . but, I'm not a slave to the doctrine of communicative instruction.  It doesn't necessarily meet the needs of the average high school student - but that is a topic for another day.

Go watch the video if you can; this student is trying to get a thousand hits before his presentation tomorrow.  I know that would make his day.

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, May 17, 2012


One week of instruction left until exams and you could say the stress level is a little high right now.  I keep thinking I'm going to find a minute to share something here, then a dozen little things (or big things) pop up that need my immediate attention.

But I found time to make this . . .

Having students make little signs like this one might be a really fun way to review command forms.  Heck, I used two irregular commands right here.

Soon I will return with something to share but for now I'll forge forward - calmly and fabulously, of course.  *wink*

Hasta pronto,


Tuesday, May 15, 2012


I like to make activities once in awhile that get the kids sitting around in groups together and playing a game to practice their vocabulary or their grammar.  This particular activity calls upon them to put the words of a sentence in order - including the object or reflexive pronoun.  And, since there are two verbs in the sentence, there are two places that pronoun can go.  Pronoun placement always seems to be a bear, but this activity takes the drudgery out of it.

Once the students correctly put together Mis amigos me van a comprar un regalo,  I then ask them to move the word me to the other correct place it can go in the sentence.  (They overlap the cards to show that the pronoun is attached.)

I will not lie to you; this activity takes some time to set up.  But once you have made it, you can keep the cards in envelopes and save them for the next time you teach pronoun placement.  Our school requires that students complete at least 100 hours of community service to graduate, so I always have willing volunteers to cut, copy, staple, and fold!

  • Heavy card stock in various colors
  • Small envelopes
  • Scissors
  • Printer
  • Write the sentences, making sure to include pronouns which can change positions in the sentence.  (I strongly recommend that you use the current vocabulary when you write the sentences so that you are killing two birds with one stone.)
  • Type the words in a document using the Tables feature.  Copy the same sentence on the paper over and over on the same sheet, depending on the number of card sets you want to create.
  • Repeat with the second sentence . . . third, fourth, etc.  (I don't recommend more than 6-8 sentences or the game starts to get tedious.)
  • Print the sentence cards onto paper and use a copy machine to transfer them to heavy card stock.
  • Cut them out, sort them into groups, and put them in the envelopes.
  • Have fun! 
Make sure each sentence gets its own unique color or the students will have no way to tell which cards go together and they are likely to become extremely frustrated.

Hasta pronto,


Monday, May 14, 2012

El Hombre y la Plancha

Iron Man is the name of this quirky little Spanish film that was the recent winner of the 48hfp (48 hour film project) in Barcelona.  It won a number of awards and, for reasons I cannot really understand, it makes me smile. 

There are English subtitles that make it easy for beginning Spanish students to understand but, before you show it to your students, be aware that there is one rude hand gesture and the consumption of alcoholic beverages in the film.  There may or may not be implied homosexuality in the film also.  (I'm not sure.  I'm notoriously dense about these sorts of things.  It's very subtle regardless.)  You know your district norms and your students best, so choose wisely.

The movie is about five minutes long and is mostly in Spanish.  One fun activity with beginning students might be to get them to figure out when Spanish is being spoken and when another language is being spoken.  I heard Italian spoken by one character and another language (Czech maybe?) spoken by another.  It could be a fun activity.

You might also want to get the students to generate a list of vocabulary for appliance pets once they finish watching the film.  (Yes, appliance pets.  That will make sense after you watch the film; I promise.)

Whether you can share it with your students or not, I hope you enjoy Iron Man, amigos míos.

Hasta pronto,


Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Jesus Shaves"

Comedian David Sadaris explains holiday customs and cultural differences in this hilarious monologue about how difficult it can be to convey complex ideas with limited grammar and vocabulary in a foreign language.  In his case it is French, but I am sure every student and teacher of foreign language can relate to this same problem and the (often hilarious) miscommunications that can result.
This is mostly safe to share with your classes but there is one curse word (bleeped out) at the end of the monologue.

Enjoy!  (Click here --> ) Jesus Shaves by David Sadaris.

Hasta Pronto,


Image Source:

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Soy Lo Que Soy

My advanced Spanish students have a "Do It Yourself" project this quarter.  They had to write their own project, the grading rubric, set their timelines, set their own due date, and present their work in Spanish.  They also had to give a rationale for their project and explain to me how they were going to use Spanish in it.

So far I have gotten a board game based on the movie Rio (which we watched in class in Spanish), a demonstration on how to make apple and cinnamon empanadas, a recipe poster and a sampling of menestra de verduras, and a music video.  We have a skit, a flamenco dance, and some more food coming up in the next couple of weeks - so this should be interesting, educational, and entertaining!  What more could I ask of life really?

The down side to the project is the same as it usually is when I have students do a presentation in Spanish: their pronunciation and intonation is often so bad that the other students don't understand what is being said.  The students feel the need to have note cards and then wind up reading off of them the whole time - which makes for a very flat presentation.

The good side is that everyone gets to chose something that was interesting and meaningful to them, and they came up with ideas that would not have occurred to me.

The image above links to the video that these two made of themselves singing Lo Que Soy by Demi Lovato.  I especially like the bloopers they included at the end.  These two often get into laughing fits like that in class too, but that's another story.  For their presentation, they shared the video and explained how it was made and edited.  They also did a little skit for us.  I have to say I was pleased that they had a good time while learning some Spanish along the way. 

If you watch it, please leave them a little note to let them know you liked it.  I know that would make them very happy.

Hasta pronto,


Suplementario - Obrita con Seis Expresiones

I had meant to follow up on this before but got bogged down in a mountain of paperwork . . . you know how that goes.

For the most part, the little Six Phrase Skits were fairly formulaic and predictable.  The good thing is that the students seemed to enjoy themselves and they took the time to interact with the vocabulary in creative ways.  They also reviewed past concepts as they put their thoughts into Spanish and came to me for answers that made them go, "Oh yeah!" and "I remember that now."

One skit in particular got me laughing.  They made little protest signs as props too - very cute.

  • Sarah: ¡Qué lástimaEl centro de rehabilitación está en fuego.
  • Nico:  Sí, el IRS incendió el edificio porque ellos no pagaron los impuestos.
  • Sarah:  Vamos a participar en una marcha para protestar los altos impuestos.
  • Nico:  Me interesaría mucho participar en la marcha.
  • Sarah: Sí.  Tenemos los derechos y el IRS no debe quemar nuestros edificios.

Really, where did they think that up?  The indignation in "Sarah's" voice was adorable.  I think I'll put the Six Phrase Skit on my lesson plan at least once or twice next year.

Hasta pronto,


Monday, May 7, 2012

Obrita con Seis Expresiones

I was recently at a website called The Creative Language Class with a ton of exciting and inspirational ideas that really got me thinking about how to spice up my lessons. 

Though I generally start off the year strong, I often fall into a pattern which eventually becomes a bit of a rut and it's good to mix it up from time to time and have some fun with the language. 

One of the ideas I saw there was The Five Phrase Skit which sounds like a load of fun but isn't going to work for my particular classes and teaching style, so I decided to change it up a bit and make it into a Six Phrase Skit with a different set of rules.

In the original Five Phrase Skit, the students are encouraged to act out a skit using only those five phrases and no other dialog at all, if I understand the directions correctly.  And I am sure that it is all kinds of fun, especially with students who are just learning the language.  But I teach Spanish III and up and want my students using the vocabulary to create longer sentences and interact with the vocabulary in creative ways.  So in my version, I will give them six phrases (three for each participant) from their current vocabulary list and ask them to write the dialogue themselves using the phrases I've selected in order.  It gets them to stretch a little to figure out how to use the vocabulary but still encourages them to speak in complete sentences and to write creatively.  I will have to give them a little more time to collaborate than I would for The Five Phrase Skit, but I think it will be worth the time and investment.

Here are the six phrases that Spanish III will receive on Tuesday:
  • ¡Qué lástima!
  • el centro de rehabilitación
  • los impuestos
  • Vamos a participar en una marcha.
  • Me interesaría mucho.
  • los derechos
Those are not simple phrases and I imagine they will have to think hard in order to get them into a cohesive dialogue but they always seem to surpass my expectations when it comes to creativity, so I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

If you get the chance, you should definitely stop by The Creative Language Class.  It was their idea that got me thinking about this in the first place, and there are so many great ideas over there!

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Me Faltan Palabras . . .

Words fail . . .

I was going to blog today about the Fiesta Salsera we held at school today - our first of what we hope will become a yearly event.  Students made salsas at home and brought them in for sampling.  We also had a salsa dance party . . . well, it was actually a Zumba fitness class since no one was interested in pairs dancing.  But it was great fun!  Maybe I'll share some pictures with you in a coming blog post, but something else caught my attention today - a news story out of Colorado dealing with the public school ban on unhealthy foods.  In fact, if I taught in Colorado today, I would not have been able to have the Fiesta Salsera because of the fat content in the tortilla chips and the guacamole.

I realize that the school leaders in Colorado must have good intentions, but they have gotten way off course and allowed their ideals to blind them to the real world.  To be specific, the Greeley, Colorado public schools have banned all cakes, cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts, candy, pies and other goodies from schools.  Well, not all cakes.  They do have one approved cake recipe that uses black beans that they say the kids love.  Really?  I dare them to do a side-by-side comparison and see whether black bean cake comes anywhere close to real chocolate cake.

In Greeley, Colorado public schools there are strict calorie and nutrition guidelines for all food served in schools or at school events.  This includes everything on campus and off-campus at field trips and events - even student's private lunchboxes are not excluded from the ban.  There will be no bake sales, birthday cupcakes, candy for a good grade, or cultural tasting events.

To put it in perspective for us Spanish teachers, this means that there would be none of the following allowed in our classrooms:
  • churros con chocolate
  • flan
  • dulce de arroz
  • rosca de reyes
  • pan de muertos
  • horchata
  • pan dulce
  • alfajores
  • bizcocho
  • meringues
  • tembleque de coco
  • chocolate mexicano
  • pastel de tres leches
And on and on . . . I haven't read the exact law myself but, if I correctly understand the rhetoric, there would be no more fried foods like empanadas, quesadillas, or tortilla chips either.

At the beginning of the school year, my Sociedad Honoraria Hispánica students had a "cocktail" and tapas party with non-alcoholic piña coladas, sangria, and margaritas.  The tapas included chilaquiles, olive tapanade, artichoke dip, churros, arepas, and empanaditas filled with apples and cinnamon.  You never saw such happy kids!  They worked so hard on their contributions and they were delighted with the fiesta.  It was probably the best thing we did in SHH all year . . . and not a single thing would have been allowed if the officials in Colorado had their way.

Oh, and they would have us put pencils and erasers in our piñatas.  Not very traditional, Colorado.  As my 8th grade daughter just told me, "Kids don't give a flying fadoddle about pencils and erasers."  (Editor's Note: I have no clue what a "fadoodle" is, but they apparently come in flying and non-flying varieties.)

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  I think this is what they meant.

Hasta pronto,


Image Source:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jugeo Divertido

Last year I was reviewing vocabulary with my Spanish I class and a new interactive whiteboard had just been installed in my classroom.  So I was looking for way to use it that would be fun and instructional.

I came across Purpose Games - a website that allows you to upload a photo and make a vocabulary game with it.  It was ideal except for the fact that I didn't have a photo with all the vocabulary I wanted.  I took a basic picture of a place setting and photoshopped in the napkin, the salt and pepper shakers, and the water glass.  Then I was good to go.  Following the easy steps online I created a vocabulary game in no time.

Except for the water glass, it came out looking pretty good.  I just couldn't seem to get that glass to look like it belonged in the picture.

My students competed to see who could solve the game in the fastest time and, if their laughter was any indication, they really enjoyed themselves too.

Of course this activity is not communicative, but it still works well - especially when you have first introduced new vocabulary and you want them to memorize it in a painless way.  Click on the picture to go directly to the game.

Try it yourself and please leave a link in the comments below so we can all share!

Hasta pronto,


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Coca-Cola: Todos Llevamos Un Héroe Dentro

Like most people, I dislike commercials for the most part.  Though I understand the necessity, I don't like them interrupting my programing or making me wait interminably to see what happens next on my show.  But once in awhile a commercial makes me laugh or smile and I don't mind so much.  Rarer still are those commercials that actually make me think and reflect on life.

Coca-Cola is running an excellent series of commercials in South America that are the kinds that I really like.  They are uplifting and inspiring, and they make me feel much better about the world we live in.

These commercials are great for us Spanish teachers for a couple of reasons.  Besides being short and easy to fit into the last couple minutes of a lesson, they are an excellent way to teach character at the same time you teach Spanish.  Additionally, the Spanish comes up on the screen in large print and this makes it easy to pause the video and discuss.  And lastly, the commercials speak to universal topics - the desire to believe in others and the goodness that dwells in us all.

The picture above links to the Zambombazo site (Love it!) where they have kindly put all the commercials together in one place.  They have even been so thoughtful as to provide a worksheet for us teachers.  ¡Gracias Zambombazo!

Hasta pronto,