Thursday, April 18, 2013

La Tragedia en Boston

I really struggle with terrorism.  The killing of innocent people to draw attention to one's dogma, be it religious or social, is unfathomable to me.  In Boston today, people who never had anything to do with whatever religious or social agenda the bomber had in mind are burying their loved ones and learning to cope with new disabilities.  The world is diminished.

Students sometimes want to talk about these things and that is not something that can be done easily (if at all) in the target language.  Regardless, my current Spanish II chapter vocabulary has such words as explosion, smoke, fire fighters, paramedics, and other related words on the list.  And we are using preterite and imperfect to discuss the past, so I decided that we could cover this topic.

I wrote a description of the event in very simplified Spanish and included a picture to help with comprehension and discussion.  Then I found a short video (40 seconds) in native Spanish covering the tragedy as well.  As these things go, the Spanish in the video is reasonably approachable for a late-year Spanish II student with sufficient teacher scaffolding.  To do that, I created a series of mini activities with different objectives so they could watch the video several different times.  Each time they watched the video again, they would be looking/listening for something different.  6th period gave a thumbs up at the end of the activity and said they were able to understand, if not every word of the video, at least the big picture of what was going on overall.

I left a spot for the students to write some thoughts and reflections at the end.  These points could be used in small or large group discussions, if your students are good at that and can be trusted to stay on topic.

When I finished with the activity today, I offered it to the other Spanish teachers here and they were positive about it.  So now I share it with you and hope your students can have some success with Spanish and staying abreast of current events.  Perhaps it will give them a voice to their thoughts.

My love and prayers go out to the victims of the explosions and to their loved ones.  God bless you all.

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Otros Usos Para Un Viejo Calendario

I was tired of looking at a bulletin board which had been put up weeks ago and had faded, deteriorated, and become unappealing.  And some little troglodita had even deposited a wad of gum on it - yuck!

But I had no time, supplies, or inspiration to create a new bulletin board from scratch . . . and then it occurred to me.  I had an old calendar from last year that was just sitting around collecting dust.  I hadn't thrown it away because it had such beautiful pictures and I was hoping to find something to do with them, and today turned out to be the day.

What do you think?
Colorful, bright, festive and done in less than fifteen minutes!  

Of course it would be more educational in nature if I put up a little blurb about what each of the pictures were, but see above about time and inspiration.  Perhaps I'll find a little stash of one or both at the end of the week.

The calendar was from the good folks at Teacher's Discovery who create wonderful classroom supplies for teachers - especially us language teachers.  They included it as a freebie with my order last time.  What a wonderful gift!

Hasta pronto,


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Pensamientos Sobre Mi Escuela

I often hear students exclaim loudly about how much they hate school, or how much they hate this school in particular.  Do they imagine that at other schools, students leap out of bed each morning excited about another day of learning?  Do they sing and dance at the bus stop because they are so overjoyed about their school?  Perhaps they think that other schools are all YouTube videos, funny memes, and taco parties? 

School is hard, no matter where you are, and there are always challenges to be faced.  That said, I teach at a wonderful school.  My students are bright and respectful.  The teachers are dedicated, knowledgeable, and so hard-working.  The administrators are in touch with the realities of the classroom (both the principal and the assistant principal teach classes of their own) and are available to talk when needed.  The school building is new and has wireless internet throughout, interactive white boards, Apple TV displays on high-def screens, document cameras, and all sorts of other goodies.  And, as if all that were not enough, all the students in the school are issued an iPad and a suite of apps that they use to complete their assignments, research, and connect with others.  We have no discipline problems to speak of, no issues with teen pregnancy, drug abuse, hazing, or violence.

Our test scores on the PSAT, ACT, and state exams are consistently (and significantly) higher than those in the state and in the county.  It's a utopia, right?

What is the problem?  Why would students complain so vehemently about our school?

The have one legitimate gripe, I suppose.  (Not really, but I'll voice it for them here anyway.)  The students wear a "uniform" (polo shirts and khakis) and they hate it.  And, because we are a school of choice (a public charter) families opt in to this school instead of the local public schools.  Classes here are hard and we don't pass kids along who don't meet academic expectations.  So some students feel like if they could just be at the local public high school, it would be a constant party.

The thing they forget is that school is supposed to be hard.  It's supposed to challenge you, stretch you, and push you to your maximum potential.  It's supposed to break you out of conformist thought and provide new perspectives.  In school and in life one is supposed to work hard and go home tired but satisfied with a sincere effort and progress toward goals.  Otherwise, what is the point?

I once saw a button that said, "School prepares you for the real world, which also sucks."  Now, I don't believe that hard work need be considered a bad thing, but it is true that school is a lot of work which prepares you for a lot more work.  And that is a good thing, amigos!  We do not want to be intellectually complacent any more than we want to be physically sedentary.  Both lead to rot and ruin and we cannot allow our kids to choose that for themselves without putting up a fight.

Our education is perhaps the only thing in life that we own completely.  It is something that can never be taken from us, even by the most oppressive regimes or religions.  It's worth the struggle and it's worth the work.

So the next time I hear some kid talking about how much school sucks or how awful it is, I need to respond with something along the lines of "It's a lot of hard work, isn't it?  But anything worth having in life is worth working for."

Mis pensamientos de hoy, amigos.

Hasta pronto,


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Yo No Pudiera Decirlo Mejor

Every now and again I stumble across something that is just perfect.  The message and the way it is written coincide to produce an ideal little snippet of wisdom and insight.

People, and I think teens are even more susceptible to this, often tend to think that morality begins and ends with a label.  Obviously it's not enough to label yourself "religious" and be done with it.  Like the old adage suggests, "Your words are who you want others to think you are but your actions are who you really are."


I try very hard not to get hung up on people's belief systems, but rather to accept them for who they are and judge them by their actions (if and when judgement is even called for).  But crowing loudly about one's religion or one's atheism is one of those things that puts me on alert.  Are you really that devout or do you just want me to think that?

But to bring this around to a classroom topic, that is why I am here after all, what does one do when the classroom suddenly bursts into a discussion of religion?  Such debates are frequently so passionate that students do not maintain the target language and are almost always off-topic.  But I feel like an intellectual ogre when I stomp on the discussion and try to bring it back around to the pluscuamperfecto (or whatever the topic at hand might be).

Maybe one could redirect by saying that the conversation has strayed from the topic at hand, but that students were welcome to submit comments in Spanish for later discussion and then give them a forum to do so.  A discussion board online might be ideal, as long as rules were posted that no proselytizing and no slandering would be allowed.  My experience tells me that only a very few would actually take me up on it, but that it could be a brilliant discussion for those who did.  What do you think?

Hasta pronto,


Image courtesy of .

Monday, April 8, 2013

¡Más Zombis!

And a little something to add to the Zombie Apocalypse lesson . . .

And look!  It even has an example of the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional to reinforce the lesson on conditional.  Who could ask for more?

Gracias to the folks at for the image.  You will find a lot of funny stuff over there but be cautious, not all of it is classroom appropriate.

Hasta pronto,


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Apocalipsis de Zombis

Zombies are big right now though I can't begin to understand why.  I mean, they really don't have anything going for them.  They look bad, smell bad, make a mess everywhere they go, and they want to eat your brain.  Not good.

But still they persist in popular culture.  It seems that I see a new zombie video or hear talk of surviving a zombie attack every other day.  So my students were quite taken aback today when I told them we were going to plan for the zombie apocalypse.  Yes, really.  It's a great way to use the conditional tense in Spanish.

I discovered this delightful video on YouTube in which Señor Jordan teaches the use of the conditional tense.  He explains (in Spanish) about people becoming sick and turning into zombies.  Then he poses the question: ¿Qué harías?  He goes through a number of suggestions for how to best respond and then pauses for the listener to decide whether the idea is a good one or bad one.  He goes on to explain the conditional tense and does a few practice activities as well.  All told, an excellent and entertaining educational video. 

My students really liked the video too.  It's great to hear them laughing and enjoying themselves in class, I must say!  We followed up the video by working in pairs to generate ideas about what to do to survive the coming of the zombies.  They were given instructions to include at least one mala idea also, and that made the activity especially fun.

"Iría a Wal-Mart y compraría comida enlatada, botellas de agua, y otras provisiones."
"Jugaría videojuegos de zombis para mejorar mis habilidades de matarlos."
"Juntaría armas de fuego, municiones, y minas terrestres."
"Estudiaría para mis examenes AP."
"Iría a Fort Bragg para pedir ayuda militar."
"Les enseñaría bailar (a los zombis)"

I'm putting the best ones together in a Powerpoint and we will decide which ones are the good and which ones are the bad ideas.  And I'm going to award a Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse certificate to the group with the best plan overall.

And, as I type this, the male members of my family are discussing their own survival strategies - in all seriousness.  I wish you could hear this.  They have thought this through and have strong opinions. *eye roll*

At any rate, maybe you can work a zombie apocalypse into your lesson plans too.  It's a lot of fun and your students will think you're amazing.

Hasta la próxima,