Thursday, October 31, 2013


It is about that time of year when we start thinking of the holidays, and that brings with it the desire to give gifts to those less fortunate.  I wanted to do something with my students from Sociedad Honorífica Hispánica that would be meaningful, related to Spanish, and that would not cost them too much money since many of them do not have jobs yet.

Inspiration struck as my mother came to me yesterday with a gift catalog from Heifer International, a non-profit organization that works in underdeveloped parts of the world by giving livestock to families and training in how to properly care for the animals.  For some families, the milk from a cow or a goat can be the difference between eating and going hungry.  The wool from a sheep can be woven into a warm blanket or sold at market for money for food.

Picture from Untamed Wildlife Photography
The idea is similar to the old adage, "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime."  A family with livestock can live - not just today, but into the future.  Not only that, the recipients of the animals agree to pass on the first offspring to other needy families in their communities, so the gift keeps giving.  Alton Brown, a supporter and contributor,  explains it in a promotional video he did for Heifer International.

 One of the gifts that you can choose in the catalog is a llama.  These llamas go to impoverished families in Peru, so it's a perfect project for my students from Sociedad Honorífica Hispánica since it ties in with the Spanish-speaking world so well.  (Maybe Quechua-speaking, but that's okay too.) 

Image from All
There are 29 students in our school's chapter of SHH, 30 of us in total if you include me, so I figure we should each be able to donate about $10 for a total of $300.  That amount is enough for us to donate two llamas.  It makes me feel warm inside knowing that a child somewhere in the Andes mountains will sleep warmly because of the wool provided by the llama that we donate.

I have one stipulation for this project - I insist that the students earn the money themselves.  I don't want them hitting up their parents for $10 because that would not be meaningful and would not demonstrate the generosity that I want them to learn.  Some of them have jobs, most have an allowance, and some may have a little money saved up.  Otherwise, I am encouraging them to offer their parents or grandparents a service in exchange for the money.  If it is earned, then it is a real gift from the heart.

Here is a link to the flyer that I made for my students.  I'm including it here in .docx format so that you can use it and modify it to fit your circumstances, if you decide to take up the same project with your Spanish club or chapter of SHH.  And, if you do, I would love to hear from you.

Hasta la próxima,


Friday, October 25, 2013

Flores de Papel

Tomorrow is the Fall Festival at school and my Spanish Honor Society students and I are doing a craft table for the event.  I would love to do something seasonal and topical like sugar skulls but I honestly don't have the time or funds to create hundreds of them.  Instead I have chosen to do paper flowers.  They are colorful and culturally appropriate.  To make them more seasonal, we are going to use yellow and orange paper to make marigolds - like the ones seen on the ofrendas for Day of the Dead.

Last year we put up an ofrenda ourselves with decorated skulls, papel picado, candles, flowers, fruit . . . the whole nine yards.  Sadly I don't have a picture of it.  Something was wrong with my image card and blah, now the whole thing is just a memory.  At least it's a good memory, right?

We had career day today at school and I lost a lot of class time so I decided to give the paper flowers a run through in class today before unleashing the project on an unsuspecting public tomorrow.  It went well, I must say.

And while I was at it, I figured I'd put together a project DIY sheet for anyone else who wants to make these or do them with their class.  The sheet is in English.  I had neither the will nor the energy to write it up in Spanish today.

You can click on the picture above to download the instructions and a couple of templates to use yourself.  I hope you have success with it and have fun with it too!  It's perfect for those days when you just have half an hour of distracted students.  It would make a great extra credit project too.

If you like it, I'd love to hear from you.

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, October 24, 2013

¿Tu gato te ama o está tramando algo?

I love cats and I have always had a cat companion in my life, as long as I can remember.  One thing I love about the Internet are all the funny cat jokes and memes, but when I find one in Spanish it's extra special because I can share it with my students too.

This little video is hilarious!  It asks some of the questions that we cat owners wonder at times, and I love the film noir feel it gives with the music and the black & white art.


For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was unable to imbed the video from YouTube so I just uploaded it here locally.  However, if you want to watch it on YouTube, you can click here.

I left an English translation in the comments section for any cat lovers out there who happen across the video and haven't learned Spanish yet.

And let me just take a moment to give credit where it is due.  I found this little gem over at Zambombazo.  If you've never visited there, go now!  It is a treasure trove for Spanish teachers.  They have fun activities galore and I get a lot of inspiration from them.
¡Ojalá que les guste!

Hasta pronto,


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Libertad Creativa

I am the sort of person who is always coming up with quirky little ideas about how I want to present material.  If you've read the blog for awhile, you know what I mean.  Mobiles, graphic organizers, artsy projects, whacky card games.  I like to mix it up because I think it keeps the kids interested and it plays to everyone's strengths.

But it seems to me that whenever I come up with some particularly clever idea, someone is always lurking in the background with a sneer and the same negative comment, "It's not communicative."

Here's how it goes:

Me: I am going to have the students do a self-portrait in the style of Pablo Picasso.  They will look over dozens of his paintings to understand his style and how it changed from period to period.  Then they will make it personal by depicting themselves in that style.  Sounds great, right?

Nicolás el Negativo: "It's not communicative."

Me: We will organize our vocabulary into color-coordinated charts to show which words refer to people, which ones refer to places, which ones are actions, and which ones are descriptive.  Then students will have a visual reference to help them understand underlying sentence structure.  Isn't that a great learning tool?

Nicolás el Negativo: Well, it's okay but it's not communicative.

Me: We are going to reenact the posadas, learn traditional carols, make traditional foods, dress up in costume and have a fiesta.   I even know someone who will lend us use a donkey.  Isn't that amazing?!

Nicolás el Negativo: Not very communicative though, is it?

And on and on and on . . . .

Makes me crazy.

My most fun, creative, interesting, and engaging lessons are sometimes not communicative.  So what should I do?

The answer came to me at FLANC while I was attending a creativity workshop.  Susan Navey-Davis, a Spanish professor at my alma mater NC State, was talking about a creative project her students did and she was showing us some fabulous student work.  I was impressed and I was thoroughly enjoying myself when, all of a sudden, that same old obnoxious objection is raised at the back of the room.  "But, it's not communicative."

Without wasting a breath, Susan answered back with wisdom and gave me freedom forever from those naysayers.  "We don't have to have ALL the 5 Cs in every lesson."

The shackles fell away and I drew a breath of fresh air.  We don't have to have all 5 Cs in every lesson?  No, we don't!  I can focus on Connections, Culture, Community, and Comparisons too.  Communication is very very important, but there are other things that we are supposed to be teaching as well.  I finally have my answer to those negative voices with their criticism and intolerance.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Polls Everywhere

In case you haven't heard about Polls Everywhere yet, let me be the first to share it with you.  And, for those of you that do know about it, I'd like to share some of the ways I use it in my classroom.

Polls Everywhere is a site that allows users to engage their class or audience in real time.  Not only that, it motivates students and increases their on-task time.  The gist is this - you create a question, display it for the class, and as your students respond to it, the whole class can watch the results in real time.

How do you display it?  You can use an LCD projector, interactive white board, or other media to display the real time results.

How do the students respond?  There are two ways.  Students can either text in their answers from their phone or they can respond online (via computer, tablet, or smart phone).  Even those teachers who are not in 1:1 classrooms will probably have a majority of students with cellphones, so participation becomes fun and inclusive.  When not everyone has a phone, I'm quick to ask amenable students to share.  "Mindy, when you're finished can Grant use your phone right quick to text his answer too?"  If you ask the right students, this is easy and fun for everyone.

The folks over at Polls Everywhere can probably explain it even better than I can, so you can click the image below to watch their short introductory video if you'd like.

So, here is the fun part.  How do you use it in the classroom?  There are probably a thousand ways to use it that I haven't even thought of, but here are a few that I found useful.

1. Make a quick poll of student preferences.  This is what they show in the video above.  You can quickly find out whether your students would rather have the test on Wednesday or Thursday, for example.  (Mine have never, ever selected the earlier date, but I still keep asking - just in case.)

2. Ask multiple-choice style questions to check for comprehension to make sure they are following you in the language.

3. Review before a test and see what students know and what they need to review.

4. Ask open-ended questions to see what ideas students got from a reading or listening prompt.

5. My favorite use of this tool is to have students write true/false questions with the vocabulary (in Spanish, of course).  When they all finish, we scroll through them and answer them as a class.  This is delightful fun in levels III and up!

6. Ask students what they already know about a topic before you teach it for some quick, informal formative feedback that can guide your lesson preparation.

7. Ask students for suggestions on what they might like to do for a project in your current lesson.  They always surprise me with their ingenious and creative ideas.

And, I'm sure you are thinking of even more ideas for how this tool can be used.  Polls Everywhere is free and you don't even have to sign up, so it's the best of all worlds for us teachers.

Cautions - There is one big caveat that I want to let you know about ahead of time.  When you are projecting open-answered questions, students can write anything they want - ANYTHING.  And you cannot be sure who wrote what, so they have a certain anonymity.  Someone who wants to disrupt the lesson could text in something very inappropriate.  I recommend that you talk to your students ahead of time and make your expectations clear, but stay vigilant to quickly turn off the projector in case someone disappoints you.

Have fun with it, amigos!  And if you think up some great ways to use this tool I would love to hear about them.  I'm always looking for ideas to make my lessons more engaging and effective.

Hasta pronto,


Saturday, October 19, 2013


What is Storify?  Well, according to the people at the site it is helps "making sense of what people post on social media. Our users curate the most important voices and turn them into stories."  And that is a fancy way of saying that it is a site where you can collect various sources of information on a topic and unite them all in one coherent way.  You can add pictures, video, articles, tweets . . . most anything, really.

I was introduced to Storify at the FLANC conference and I found it very interesting, though I'm sure I haven't even begun to plumb the possibilities it offers for collecting various opinions and voices.  I decided to plunge on in and give it a try and I chose the topic of foreign language learning as a place to start.  My first "story" is a collection of tips and advice from polyglots on how they went about learning a language.  I thought it would be good motivation for my students (and even myself) when their faith and enthusiasm might be flagging.  I hope you take some time to look through it and take something valuable away.

There is a TED Talk about Storify which you can enjoy here:

 "Don't tell me the story; show me the story.  Help me connect with the people who lived through those events.  Help me understand what it feels like.  Let me feel empathy."

Powerful ideas!  I think the potential use for history and for foreign language is immense.  If we can get our students to feel empathy, then learning momentum begins to really get going.

If you have a story on Storify that you'd like to share, I'd love it if you sent me a link.

Hasta pronto,


Friday, October 18, 2013

Tiranosaurio Intenta . . .

Poor Tyrannosaurus!  His arms are so short that he can't do anything at all.  That is the humorous theme behind artist Hugh Murphy's pictures of T Rex trying to do all sorts of implausible and anachronistic tasks.  They are hilarious and the artist does an excellent job of making T Rex look adorable and nonthreatening.

If you click on the picture above, you can see it in its full size and download it.

The pictures are cute and I found one online on a Chinese website (via Pinterest) and figured I'd change the caption to Spanish so I could share it with my classes.  While I was there, I decided to color it with Photoshop.  (Why do I do these things?!)  I am a very skilled user of Corel Photopaint, but I am a complete novice with Adobe Photoshop, so the coloring job is a little sketchy at best.  I'll keep at it and try to get better as I go.  There are about a zillion Photoshop tutorials out there, so I really have no excuse not to improve.

My Spanish IV students are reviewing the concept that when two verbs come together, the first one is conjugated and the second one remains in the infinitive.  I don't know why that concept is hard, but I have to go over it every year again because it doesn't seem to stick.  This image with its "intenta apagar" is a great example to enhance that lesson.

Hasta pronto,


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Saludos Desde FLANC

(I see now that I wrote this last weekend and forgot to upload it.  Ooops!  Here it is now.)

Today I have the great pleasure of writing to you from the FLANC conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  FLANC is the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina, and though I have been a member for years, until now I've never had the opportunity to attend the conference.  I have attended two workshops already where I have learned a tremendous amount about technology and motivational strategies for students.

Until this afternoon, I had though I was a fairly advanced user of educational technology, but there is so much new tech out there that it boggles the mind!  If you go for more than a few months without staying on the leading edge of technology, you will find that you're out of date. 

I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Bobby Hobgood and I was so impressed with everything we looked at this afternoon and I am abuzz with ideas and possibilities.  He had more material than we could possibly get through in the 3-hour session so I have a lot more great stuff to go over in my free time.  I promise to share here as soon as I've sorted through everything.

I haven't chosen my sessions for tomorrow yet, but there are a lot of tempting ones on the schedule so the hardest part will be making the decision of which ones to attend.

Hasta pronto,


Follow Up: I attended a session on maximizing student on-task time that was filled with good ideas, some of which I already use.  I also attended a session on universal design and how to make my lessons more accessible to my students with disabilities which, interestingly enough, makes lessons better for everyone across the board.  (A powerful idea!).  Lastly I went to a session about creativity in the classroom and learned something very, very important.  It has to do with the five Cs and I'll share it with you in a few days.  I promise!  :-)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Subjunctive Mobile

This is a little creative idea I came up with to take away some of the fear of the  subjunctive.  We had taken notes and done some writing, but I wanted another repetition of the material without making my students crazy, so I created a hands-on project to decorate their study space and remind them of the rules in a whimsical way.  The result was this subjunctive mobile.

This is easily accomplished in a single class period, or it can be done as a weekend "micro project" on their own.  It would also make an excellent activity for the students to do with a substitute teacher since the instructions are very straightforward and I even included pictures so that they could be done without the teacher present, if necessary.

The file can be downloaded here with full instructions, pictures, and the template so your students can make their own mobiles.

Why are the instructions in English?  I hear you cry.  There are several reasons actually, but primarily I wanted the students (even those with special needs) to be able to do it on their own and I wanted the parents to be able to read and understand it.  By all means, feel free to rewrite it in Spanish if you wish!  I'll be happy to post it here and give you credit if you do.

I hope this is useful to you and that your students enjoy it.  I'd love to see pictures of your mobiles if you feel like sharing!

Hasta pronto, 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Después De Las Vacaciones

We are back again after our fall break and, after three weeks of vacation, my students seem to have various levels of enthusiasm for being at school today.  Some are barely slugging through the hallway whereas others are smiling and cheerfully catching up with each other.  Most look a little sleep-deprived and some look like they are suffering from PTSD . . . so what do we do on that first day back?

Obviously we Spanish teachers want to do something in Spanish to get our students thinking and functioning in Spanish again.  But, at least in my case, I don't want to jump right in with something serious right away.  I like to ease back into school in a friendly way so I try to come up with a "fun activity" when we track back in.

One of the things I tried for years, mostly unsuccessfully, was to encourage students to talk about what they did during vacation.  This seems like a no-brainer in that it's personal, relevant, and interesting.  Only, the problem is that students don't feel like they did anything worthy of mentioning or they don't have the vocabulary to express themselves.  So I wind up frustrated at the front of the classroom going, ¿Nadie?  ¿Nadie no hizo NADA durante las vacaciones?  ¿En serio?  ¿Nadie quiere compartir nada?  Por favor . . .  And then I give up in exasperation and I have to find busy work for them until the bell rings - not ideal.

As with most things in life, I found that the more preparation and work I put in ahead of time, the better things go.  So I decided to create a meet-and-greet activity that will work at levels 2 and up.

Students use the sheet to interview one another and record their answers.  I used a good mix of regular and irregular verbs but the activity could be easily modified to include other verbs.  Today in Spanish II we did the activity using the present tense forms and I explained to them that we will be learning the preterite tense later in the week.  In my other classes we used the preterite.

And here's a nice thing: when students fill in the names of their peers who answer yes to the various questions, it creates a visual chart.  With a quick glance, they can easily tell which were the most popular and least popular activities over the break.  (Math connections anybody?)

Be sure to review how to ask and answer questions and remind them to stay in Spanish.  The idea of the activity isn't to get names on a sheet; it's to communicate with one another in Spanish.

Here is a link to the activity that we used today.  I hope you are able to find a use for it in your classroom as well, amigos.

Hasta pronto,