Saturday, May 11, 2019

Student Recommended Spanish Books for SSR

I don't know if the warm spring weather has transformed my students into  verbally appreciative readers or if there's some type of reading vortex swirling through Palmyra, PA, but something strange this way comes. Something is nudging my students to be extra complimentary about their SSR books. Whatever it may be, I'm loving it. 

Students, on their OWN, are commenting to me how much they like the books they are reading independently during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading).  In three days' time, I had several students tell me about their book or recommend to another student to read the book they're reading.

Starting a SSR program in a second language requires you to be diligent and consistent in your expectations, but it will be worthy your time. Eventually, the students will learn to enjoy and appreciate that reading time; at least I've found that to be the case for the majority of the students! 

The books that my students raved about last week were:  
` 1. El Escape by A.C. Quintero
The 11th grade male student said: "This book is really good."   I have observed this student many times during SSR in the last 3 months in which he was staring at the floor instead of reading, 'reading' on the same page for the majority of the 10 minutes; and sleeping. Since he started to read El Escape, his reading behaviors have changed and he spends the full 10 minutes reading. 

I told the author, A.C. Quintero, and she said she wrote the book especially for boys that don't want to read romance books.

2. La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth
A student wanted a recommendation for a new book so I suggested La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth. Three days later, another student needed a new book.  The student reading La Calaca Alegre told him to read La Calaca Alegre because she liked it and thought he would like it too. 

3. Brandon Brown Dice la Verdad by Carol Gaab
Before starting SSR today, a female student said, "Se├▒ora, I want to tell whoever wrote this Brandon Brown book that they wrote a literal masterpiece." (She was holding Brandon Brown Dice la VerdadYes, that is exactly what she said. I asked if I could videotape her saying that and she agreed. In the video she not only says Brandon Brown Dice la Verdad is a great book but "all of the Brandon Brown books are literal masterpieces". I texted that video to Carol Gaab. I think she is Carol's newest favorite student. ­čśé 

4. Rebeldes de Tejas by Mira Canion
A student completed his Book Talk assignment on Rebeldes de Tejas. He said he likes historical fiction and Rebeldes de Tejas was his favorite book this semester. I also sent a video of him saying that to Mira.

5. El Armario by A. C. Quintero
El Armario is the second book in a trilogy. The student did her Book Talk on this book and said it was her favorite book. The following day she asked me for the sequel to El Armario, which is Las Sombras
(The first book in the trilogy is Las Apariencias Enga├▒en but other students were reading my two copies at the time, so she skipped the first book and read the second book. She said it was a little confusing at the beginning since she didn't read book #1, but it was so compelling and interesting so she continued reading.) 

You can find the above readers at the author's websites, or Amazon, or Fluency Matters. 

If you do not have a SSR program in place, I strongly recommend that you consider it. Finding funds for a class library can be a challenging task, but many teachers have been creative and persistent in searching for funds and reading materials and they now provide this opportunity for their students.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Absent Students: Catching Up on Missed Chapters

An absent student = a student that can easily fall behind in class. You can post what students missed on an online platform so they can stay up-to-date even after an absence. 

But, let's face it, the majority of students don't check what they missed when they were absent. Instead of checking for missed work online they come to class asking,  "What did I miss yesterday?" or even better, "Did we do anything yesterday when I was absent?" 

However, I actually love when a student returns from school after an absence because this gives us the perfect opportunity to review. I really enjoy it if they missed a class story or a chapter/chapters that we read in our class novel. I hand over this task to the community of learners in the classroom (the students). It is their responsibility to help "catch up" the student on what s/he missed when absent.

Today I did a slight variation of what I usually do for students that missed class when we are reading a class novel.  I use the name "Tess" below to make the explanation clear.

1. Put all names of students in a basket/bowl.

2. Draw 5 names. Tell the students whose name was pulled that they have to ask Tess a question about the new information/material that they learned when Tess was absent.

3. The 5 students take turns asking Tess questions. If Tess guesses the answer correctly, the student has to ask her another question. If Tess does not know the answer, the teacher pulls another name from the basket and that student has to explain the answer to Tess.

This review works well because:

- It provides additional comprehensible input for students.

- Students quickly learned that if they asked a super easy question, Tess would guess the answer and they would have to think of another question. Their questions became more involved and "meaty".

- Students not asking the questions paid attention because they knew it was possible their name would be pulled to answer the question if Tess did not know the answer. 

For novice learners, I ask the questions instead of the students.

*Teachers: you need to know your classes and your students. Obviously, do not do this activity if the student that was absent will feel awkward because he doesn't know the answers. Remember, it is the teacher's job to make sure the student knows that he isn't expected to know the answer; that the real purpose is to involve the students in the review, to think of the new information from the previous day and present that information to the student that missed class.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Countdown: A Listening Activity for the WL Classroom

Countdown is a listening activity/game in which students listen to 5 clues about the name of a person, or a word. The goal is to guess the word that is described by listening to the fewest amount of clues.

Countdown is an activity for students to sharpen their listening skills in L2 and to use some higher order thinking, as well as a bit of strategic play added in the mix.

My example below is how we played Countdown with names of women in my Spanish 4+ class. We played this at the beginning of our Mujeres Unit, but Countdown can be played with any category of words, or even words not in any specific category.

Preparation for the game

1. Students had to think of a woman that has had a positive impact in society and to NOT share the name with their classmates.  

2. Students had to write 5 sentences about the person, without mentioning her name in any of the sentences. The first sentence should be very vague; one that after listening to it their classmates may have an idea, but not be absolutely sure if they have the correct person.

The second clue should give a little more information about the person.
The third clue should allow the listeners to narrow down whom it might be.
and so forth for the fourth and fifth clue. By the fifth clue, EVERYONE should know the person that is being described.

(If you play this with a beginning level class, I suggest that the teacher write the clues.)

I gave #1 and #2 as a homework assignment because I did not want to take class time for the research and writing part of the activity.

3. Each student needs a marker board, a marker, and eraser. (You can use paper instead if you do not have mini-marker boards.) Students should sit in a large circle, facing inward, allowing for as much space as possible between each student to deter them from seeing what their neighbor has written.

Playing the game & scoring

Students will take turns reading their clues OR the teacher can collect the clues and read it to the students (which allows the teacher to make any needed corrections in the sentences on the spot, while reading).

1. Clue A (first clue), worth 5 points: Read Clue A in the TL. If a student thinks she knows the correct answer, she will write it on her marker board, hiding her answer so others cannot see what she wrote. She also writes #5 on the marker board because her written answer, if correct, is worth 5 points. (If students write the point value when they write their answer, it will be easy to tally the points at the end of the round.) 

She then puts the mini-marker board on the floor in front of her, face down. This makes it easy for the teacher and the students to see which students have written their response.

After a student, writes the name and places the board on the floor in front of her, she can NOT change her answer. If she writes the answer after listening to only one clue (Clue A) and when she hears the next clue (Clue B) she realizes that she has the wrong answer, she may NOT pick up the board and change her answer. This is where the strategic element comes into play.

2. Clue B (2nd clue), worth 4 points: Students listen to Clue B which gives a little more information about the woman. If a student knows the answer, she writes it on the marker board, along with #4 because it is worth 4 points if it is correct, and places the board face down in front of her chair.

This continues with Clue C (the 3rd clue - worth 3 points), Clue D (the 4th clue - worth 2 points), and Clue E (the 5th clue - worth 1 point).

3. After all clues have been read, the students will hold up their marker board and the teacher, or the student reading the clue, will share the correct answer. Students will keep track of their own points on their marker boards.

Example:  Below are the clues that I use as a model for the students. It is written in English below for the purpose of sharing it on my blog which is read by those who teach languages, not necessarily all Spanish teachers, but I read the clues in Spanish to my students. 

Clue A: Her father was a school teacher.
Clue B: She worked for the equality of education for girls from a young age.
Clue C: She published her autobiography when she was 16 years old.
Clue D: She is the youngest person to have received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Clue E: She is from Pakistan and was shot by the Taliban.

I have played this for several semesters. Some of the names that appear often are:
Rosa Parks
Ophra Winfrey
Frida Kahlo
Amelia Earhart
Helen Keller
Harriet Tubman
Hilary Clinton
Sally Ride
Serena Williams

You could play this game with cognates, foods, animals, occupations, or words not in any specific category. Playing with names of people was easy because the students didn't need to know the words in Spanish.  

Please let me know if there is anything unclear in the instructions that you would like me to clarify.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

One Word Images in the World Language Classroom

PD in Philadelphia w/ Krista
In early March, the other 3 members of my World Language department and I traveled to Philadelphia for a 2-day workshop by Mike Peto. 

Krista and I have attended countless workshops, conferences, and TCI group meetings for years, but I was particularly looking forward to attending Peto's workshop since the two newest members of our department, ("new" as in they've been teaching at our school for 5 or 6 years), were also going to the workshop. Whenever Krista and/or I go to a conference, we share that information with our department when we return, but how fun and beneficial to grow professionally together as a department

PHS WL Dept driving to PD in Philly
I've been teaching with a focus on providing comprehensible input for years and I've read Mike's books, "My Perfect Year" and "Pleasure Reading", so much of what Mike talked about I had already implemented in my teaching, ie. SSR/FVR, interviewing students, writing, etc, but for me, the draw for the workshop was to see Mike demonstrate and talk about One Word Images (OWI), the Write and Discuss (W&D) aspect that follows it, and his Maravillas collection of videos and stories. I had created some OWIs in my classes this school year and last school year, but I was ready to improve my skills in that area and for my department to do the same (although I completely think Krista already has the OWI skill down to a science!). 

I chatted w Arianne Dowd!
Did you notice Mike
Peto in background?
Mike demonstrated how to create OWIs by creating one with the attendees as if we were students in his Portuguese class. Immediately after walking us through the steps for the OWI, he wrote about what we had just discussed, asking for answers from the class at our level. He "revealed" the sketch that two members had drawn while we were creating the image and reviewed the information using the sketch to point out different aspects of the story. More input, more repetitions of high frequency words, and more opportunities to process the input our brains had received.

Some of my take-aways from the workshop were:

1. Encourage students to "free their minds to imagine" before creating a OWI. Have students imagine with you as you move the image from the board to a stool or table in front of the room where all students can "see" the object. Set the students up for success by preparing them to be creative. Unfortunately, by the time our students are in high school, many of their required work and assignments for school do not allow them to utilize their imagination so we need to reawaken their minds to let the creativity flow.

Discussing info from the OWI extension story.
2. Do a Write and Discuss about the OWI immediately after the students have helped you create an interesting object. The information that needs to be decided about the object are listed HERE. Limit the time spent on this stage and enlist the help of a student to keep track of the time for you. While you are creating the object, assign two artists (one student artist and one student to color the artwork). Have them draw in an area of the classroom that the other students do not see what they are drawing and are not distracted by the two artists.

Do the W&D before you share the artwork with the class. Writing about the object, before the class sees it, gives the student artists time to complete their sketch.

3.Students should NOT write during Write and Discuss. Ask students questions that will help guide them to retell the information. Write (not type) the information on a large sheet of paper or on the board. After the information is written, may instruction students to copy the W&D, but it is not necessary. The power of W&D for students is hearing the words as they are written and seeing the syntax of the language in a written story that they already know.

The W&D also gives the student artists time to complete their sketch.

4. After Write & Discuss, students should read what you have written with the class. Mike suggested several options on how to read, but most important is to READ it!

OWI created w/ class on 4/1/19
5. Create a OWI one day, write about it, read it and the following day create, with your students, a story about the OWI. (Ask the following questions to draw out more information: Who? Where? With whom?, What is problem? How does character fail to solve the problem? What is the solution?) As a ticket out the door, tell students to write a problem that the character has, or if you have already determined the problem, you can have students write or discuss in small groups HOW the character solved/tries to solve his problem. If students write an idea on a paper as a ticket out the door, look at the suggestions and choose the best one to use in class the following day.

Write the story that you created and READ again!

6. Give students a short quiz on the OWI and story they created. All students that were actively engaged in the creation of the story, the W&D, and the reading should be successful on the quiz. Students that do not do well is a result of them not tracking in class, which has nothing to do with their language ability.

7. After the story, highlight the good in the story and the positive actions of a character. Mikes says "I like my class to be a positive force for change."

OWI - 4/1/19
8. Post/project the AP themes and use them to inspire students when they think about how to create extension stories from the OWI. How cool of an idea is this?! AP themes should be part of your class from level 1.

9. Implement OWI into ALL levels. OWIs provide a perfect and natural way to provide rich language for your students in all levels.

The summary above only scratches the surface of the OWI and W&D portion of Mike's workshop, and there were many other aspects of the workshop, not just OWIs. The best way to get all the information is to attend one of his workshops first-hand!

A few other take-aways not directly related to OWIs.

Absent students represent students that have had less verbal input. Mike said, "It's hard to keep kids in my class" because the students are absent from school or pulled out to do work for other classes. It is better for us, as teachers, to require students to make up the missed input time and hours rather than excuse them from class with no expectations.

This was a complete shift in thinking for me. For several years I have been in the camp of thinking that if an A student misses class and there was a graded activity in class, I could excuse the student from the activity because if I required her to make it up, she would end up with a grade consistent to her previous work. More work for the student and for me to show that her grade will stay the same.

However, now I view it as Mike said, the student missed valuable input in the target language, something that is extremely difficult to find at the student's specific level outside of the classroom. Students will grow in their language abilities with additional input, not by excusing them from work they missed when absent. If I truly want my students to improve, I need to hold ALL my students accountable for material they missed when absent and be willing to possibly give up a lunch from time to time to retell a class story or create a new story with students that had been absent from class.

After a student interview, do a survey for the class about what was discussed. Limit it to 5 minutes max and then do a write-up about it, followed by reading what was written.

Calendar talk is NOT about the calendar; it's about the students' lives. I knew this but it seemed to sink in deeper hearing it again!
Also, Calendar talk becomes more impactful with each day new information is discussed/learned because you can refer back to the previous day(s)' information.

Changes made upon returning to PHS
Related OWIs created in separate
classes on the same day.
Both Krista and I were in our classrooms on the Sunday following the workshop. I moved my high-frequency verb posters to the front of the room, and moved some of the SSR books/bookshelves to the front and sides of the room. 

Our department is enjoying creating OWIs with our students and watching the students' vocabulary and understanding of the language develop naturally from the rich input provided by the OWIs. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my Spanish 4 class and another teacher's Spanish 1 class had both created a wealthy, red avocado on the same day!

Krista and I bought jumbo crayons and other crayons to add to our student artists supplies. 

I am teaching levels 4 and 4+ this semester so my goal, for the remainder of this school year, is to create a OWI every other week with my students. Next year, I have asked to teach some Spanish 1 classes to be able to review the current curriculum by actually teaching it again (it's been y-e-a-r-s since I taught level 1), I know I will be implementing OWIs into my lessons from the very beginning of the semester!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

(Leave) Grammar at the Door

In May of 2017 I wrote a blog post about how I use passwords with my Spanish students when I greet them at the door. (To read more about passwords click HERE for the May 2017 post, and HERE for Alina Filipescu's explanation of how she uses passwords; I believe the idea for passwords was originally from Alina.) 

I teach three different levels of Spanish and usually I have two or three different passwords, depending on the level. To help ME to remember the passwords and questions, and to simplify things, I taped a mini-white board outside my room next to where I greet the students with the passwords written on the board. The first day of a new password, I have it written in Spanish and in English and the following days it is posted only in English. The white board is also handy because I can write an example response to a question on the whiteboard for additional support for the students.

An excellent benefit of using password questions, is that it is an indirect way of introducing a new sentence structure (grammar) without the focus on grammar. For example, my question this week for two of my classes were "¿Que nunca has hecho? (What have you never done?).  Below the question, I wrote "Nunca he viajado a Australia" and the following day I left only "Nunca he ..." as a hint for the students. 

I'm sure it is obvious to language teachers that I was "practicing" the present perfect form and past participles with the students. However, the focus is on their answers and what I learn about the STUDENTS from their answers. The grammar aspect is happening at the door, but the discussion and interest level continue inside the classroom after class starts.

Friday was a good example of class discussion happening after Grammar at the Door with the passwords. Students answered the question at the door followed by a comment or another question by me. A student said that she had never eaten octopus, so I asked her if she wanted to eat octopus. Another student said he had never eaten at Chick-Fil-A, to which I commented that I have never eaten their either. Another student said he had never traveled outside of the United States so I asked him where he had traveled in the United States. Someone even said she had never gone to Starbucks.

After class started, I shared with the students the answers of their classmates and wrote a few example sentences on the board. Then I asked each student to respond to the same question again, but with a different answer. Each new answer was a spark for a new conversation, some quite unexpected. Those that teach high school won't be surprised that one student said he had never drunk his own urine. Yes, he really said that. His answer is what I view as a teachable moment and a learning opportunity. My first thought was of are news reports of people that are trapped after an earthquake or a disaster and that is how they survived. Interestingly, none of the students were derailed by his answer and one girl said it's sterile, to which I agreed. From that conversation students heard in Spanish "est├ęrile, sobrevivir (a recycled word from a newspaper article we discussed earlier in the semester), and terremoto". (sterile, to survive, & earthquake)

When the password question is one that interests the students, the follow-up classroom discussion flows easily, student engagement happens with ease, and the language is used in a natural way - to learn about others. Students want to hear what their classmates say and they want to respond to what their classmates share.  I actually ended the conversation with one of my classes because it was Friday and I wanted to wrap up an activity we had started the previous day. 

I am not against "grammar". Grammar has it's place and value in conversations.  Grammar naturally lives in conversations, but it doesn't live in worksheets and certainly not in conjugation charts. The more we communicate with each other, the more examples of grammar in context we hear and see. Remember, grammar isn't the star of the show, but rather plays a supportive role.  

Saturday, November 24, 2018

"Risky Business" - A Game for World Language Classrooms

I enjoy playing games in my Spanish class to provide additional comprehensible input, and so do my students, but did you ever play a game with your students and one team was so far ahead in points that the other teams wanted to give up? If so, considering trying a new game I created called:

Actually, it is the scoring that is new.

My students and I had read a chapter in Vidas Impactantes, written by Kristy Placido, on Azucena Villaflor. While reading it, I realized that the information could be subdivided into the following sections:

  A. Azucena Villafor. (6)
  B. El golpe de estado (6)
  C. N├ęstor (4)
  D. La b├║squeda (3)
  E. La primera manifestaci├│n (7)
  F. Gustavo Ni├▒o (6)
  G. Arrestado (5)
  H. La desaparici├│n de Azucena (4)
  I. Justicia (5)

After dividing the chapter into the above 9 categories, I wrote questions (the # of questions is in parenthesis above) from that section. When we played the game, I listed the categories on the board, but I did not write the # of questions in each category. The students did not know how many questions were in each category.

The class is a small class so I divided the students into three teams; I will call the team A, B, & C in this explanation. Students on a team were permitted to discuss the questions with their team members.  The goal of the game is to have the most points after all the questions are answered or after the allotted time the teacher set for the game has ended.

Answering questions in a category:
Team A chooses a category and they have to answer the first question from that category. If they answer correctly, they earn 10 points. EVERY TIME a team starts their turn, in each round, the answer is worth 10 points. If a team answers the first question of their turn incorrectly, they do not earn the 10 points, nor do they lose any points. Their turn is over after an incorrect answer.

After Team A answers the first question correctly, they can chose to end their turn or continue with the second question in the SAME category.  If they answer correctly, they DOUBLE their score, (in the example below, they answered the first question correctly and earned 10 points; they answered the second question correctly and doubled their score to 20 points). After each question they answer correctly, they can choose to continue with the next question in the SAME category, or they can choose to end their turn. If they answer the third question correctly, their score is doubled from 20 points to 40 points.

Ending a turn
A team will end their turn in one of the following three ways:
- the team answers incorrectly
- the team chooses to end their turn
- there are no remaining questions in the category they choose (This is why I DO NOT write how many questions are in each category. I don't want team members to choose a category based on how many questions and possible points they can earn. This add some unknowns to the game.)

Losing Points
When a team answers the first question incorrectly, there are no changes to any of the teams scores. However, a team will LOSE points if they incorrectly answer any question after their first question in each round.  

In the example on the left, ALL teams start with 0 points:

Team A earned the following points in a first round: 

 10 pts - answered 1st question of a category correctly

 20 pts - answered the 2nd question in the SAME category and doubled their score (10x2=20) 

40 pts - answered 3rd question correctly in the SAME category and doubled their score (20x2=40) 

80 pts - answered the 4th question correctly in the SAME category and doubled their score (40x2=80)

40 pts - The team INCORRECTLY answered the 5th question. They LOSE half of their current points, (80➗2=40) and the 40 points they lose are divided by the number of other teams playing and added to the scores of the other teams.  (40 pts divided by 2 teams = 20 pts for Team A & 20 pts for Team B.

Score: Team A - 40 points; Team B - 20 points; Team C - 20 points

Team A's turn ends because they answered incorrectly. Team B starts their turn in the first round and chooses a category. If Team B knows the answer to the question that Team A answered incorrectly, they can choose to stay in the same category and answer that question. But as a reminder, they do not know how many questions are in that category. It is possible that the category only has 5 questions and after Team B answers the question correctly that Team A missed, and earns 10 points because it is the first question they answer correctly in their turn for that round, it may be the last question of the category and their turn would end. Team B can choose a different category instead of continuing with a question in the category that Team A answered questions.

Points will accumulate quickly when teams answer correctly and when they earn points from teams that lose half of their points.


Team B starts their turn. They choose a new category:

20 pts - (their beginning score) points were added to their score when Team A answered incorrectly

30 pts - Team B answered the 1st question correctly (20 + 10 = 30). Remember, the first question that a team answers is ALWAYS worth 10 points; points double starting with the 2nd question they answer correctly.

60 pts - Team B answered the 2nd question correctly and doubled their score (30x2=60)

120 pts - Team B answered the 3rd question correctly and doubled their score (60x2=120)

240 pts - Team B answered the 4th question correctly and doubled their score (120x2=240)

Team B decides to end their turn (indicated by the small "x"). Their ending score is 240 pts.


Team C starts their turn. They choose a different category. 

20 pts - (their beginning score) points were added to their score when Team A answered incorrectly

30 pts Team C answered the 1st question correctly (20 + 10 = 30)

60 pts - Team C answered the 2nd question correctly and doubled their score (30x2=60

120 pts - Team C answered the 3rd question correctly and doubled their score (60x2=120)

240 pts - Team C answered the 4th question correctly and doubled their score (120x2=240)

480 pts - Team C answered the 5th question correctly and doubled their score (240x2=480)

240 pts - Team C incorrectly answered the 6th question. They lose half their points (480➗2=240)

The 240 points that Team C lost is divided by 2 (since there are 2 other teams playing) and Team A and Team B receive 120 points each.


When my students were playing, there was one team that started to play cautiously because they had a large number of points and didn't want to RISK losing half of their points and having those points going to other teams. They chose to answer only 1 question per round. They were playing safe because the first question a team answers at the start of their turn in each round, is only valued at 10 points and if they answer incorrectly they don't lose points and the other teams do not receive any points for their incorrect answer.  

However, the one team was playing cautiously, but another team was answering several questions correctly each round before deciding to voluntarily end their turn, and the other team quickly caught up to the team playing cautiously.

Order of questions in each category
There are two ways you can order the questions in each category:

1. List them from easiest to most difficult. Teams will know that with each question, the difficulty increases so they can plan accordingly.

2. Order questions in each category in random order of difficulty. Teams will not know if the next question is easy-peasy or if it will be difficult and cause them to lose their points. If they proceed cautiously and end their turn, the next team may choose to continue in the category that the previous team answered one question correctly, and have several easy questions which will make the cautious team wish they had not ended their turn.

This game can be played with any written material/text or with text from a video or MovieTalk, as long as you are able to divide the information into many categories and there is enough material to write many questions.  I recommend a minimum of 6 categories and 20+ questions.  The advantage to having many categories is that if a team is on a roll, their turn will end as soon as they answer the last question in the category.

Whew! That was a long explanation. If there is something that is unclear, please ask me about it in the comments below and I will clarify it.  Thanks for reading!

Thanks to Carrie Toth - it wouldn't be Risky Business without you. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom - a teacher's guide to reading by Mike Peto

Calling all world language teachers: 
What are your thoughts and understanding on the power of reading for vocabulary growth and to boost language acquisition? Do you have a current SSR (sustained silent reading) or FVR (free voluntary reading) program or are you ready to implement one? Do you have the key elements in place to move your students from reading in the target language to becoming lifelong readers that enjoy reading? Are you curious how other world language teachers are supporting students in their reading language journeys?

If you answered yes, or even maybe, to any of the above questions, then I'd like to recommend a book that will answer your questions and challenge you to rethink your reading program.    

I recently finished reading Mike Peto's newest book, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom. This book is a must read for teachers that want to build a successful reading program, for those that want to improve their current reading program, and for those that want to increase the amount of reading their students do in the target language in every class period, every day. Who doesn't want that for their students? So, in other words, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom is a must read for ALL world language teachers!

Mike shares his insight and personal experiences on how to create a reading program in the world language classroom that encourages students to become lifelong readers and eventually bring students to the realization that they ENJOY reading! This book is packed full of research on pleasure reading, steps to prepare students to read independently, how to select and display reading materials for a classroom library, assisting students and heritage learners in selecting reading materials, and perspectives on accountability and assessment.

Mike's style of writing is clear, straight-forward, and unapologetic. Mike is not content to continue teaching "status quo" when the results do not meet the mark that Mike expects. You will need to read the book with an open mind and a willingness to look at reading, and teaching a language in general, from different perspectives. However similar or different your teaching may be to Mike's, it will be evident that he is sincerely searching for what is best for his students in their language journey and wants to share his successes in the classroom with others in this book.

Mike begins his book describing how teachers can prepare students for a successful reading program through the creation and discussion of class-created stories or by the teacher telling the class about a remarkable person or cultural tidbit in the target language, (such as Mike Peto's Maravillas texts). These discussions and presentations are followed by reading. In this manner, Mike demonstrates how teachers can lay a foundation for student success in reading at the earliest levels before students open their first novel, and through all levels of language instruction.

In relation to reading novels, Mike makes a clear distinction between reading a class novel and independent reading of novels and other texts, a.k.a. pleasure reading. The pillars of pleasure reading are "student choice, little or no assessment, and giving students the ability to abandon the text."  Mike writes that there is a place for reading novels as a class, but he strongly places more importance on pleasure reading, (independent reading) and providing time for students to chose and read their own texts. He reminds teachers that read class novels with students to choose a book that doesn't require an extreme amount of scaffolding and support from the teacher to understand the text. Likewise, he cautions teachers to not commit "readicide" by requiring students to complete activities for each chapter of the novels.

Tina Hargaden weighs in on pleasure reading in several sections of the book that she wrote in which she shares her experience in areas such as "Differentiation and Equity", "Keeping Cool when Students aren't Reading", and "Reading Partnerships and Book Clubs Provide Structure for Independent Reading".  

I predict that Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom is a book that teachers will read many times as they continue to glean information on reading from Mike's suggestions and experiences. I downloaded my copy of the book and it is now marked with highlighting and underlines and notes in the margin to make it easier for me to refer to and reread in the future.  

Personally, reading this book has challenged me to reflect on my current reading program, and to remain committed to providing the best possible reading experience for my students, even when it may require some tweaking to my current reading program. 

You can download the ebook directly from the author at:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Leer es Poder

The World Language department at my school is making reading in the target language a priority this year. Below is the bulletin board outside of my Spanish classroom and Krista Kovalchick's French/Latin classroom. There are four 5x7 photos of the 4 WL teachers and the other photos are some of the students in Krista's and my classes. There are a few photos that we will add in the next few days to complete the bulletin board.

I have a rather extensive classroom library partially from buying books with our school budget, but the majority of the books I buy from amazon or the publishers with my personal money.  Krista does the same with buying books for her classroom, but it is a bit more difficult for her because there are not as many French and Latin books written specifically for second language learners are there are for Spanish language learners.

My plans are to write a grant and buy additional books to build up the classroom libraries so all the WL teachers have a nice selection in their classrooms from which the students can choose during SSR. 

I'm waiting for 4 new books from Fluency Matters as well as other books that I have heard about that will soon be published. You can never have too many books for your students, right?  :-)

We continue to read class novels together; 1 in level 1; 2 in levels 2 and 3; 3 (or more) in levels 4 and 5. Below are photos of my classroom library. One of the racks has children's books that I rotate after two or three weeks. I have a huge collection of children's books from an earlier grant and from a teacher that moved to the middle school and gave the books to me. I don't make those as accessible because the language and grammar is usually more difficult than the novels. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Map of Spanish Readers

In 2004, when I left my middle school Spanish job and moved to another district to teach high school Spanish at Palmyra, there were very few Spanish readers/novels available to use in the classroom. The previous teacher left me with a class set of novels that was more suitable for an upper college level class, (and which were still shrink-wrapped so he must have had the same reaction to the books), and a splattering of other readers, such as El Cid, Don Quijote, Leyendas lationamericanas, Historias de la Art├ímila, and several others.  The ones that were most useful were 3 readers by Arturo de Rosa about the detective Pepino Gonz├ílez. I used the Pepino readers with my Spanish 4 class although it took a lot of scaffolding to make it accessible, (especially since teaching with CI was not common practice at the high school when I started working at Palmyra so their reading in the language experience was very limited).  

However, in the last several years the number of Spanish readers available have exploded! Spanish teachers have a wide variety of readers to choose from to read with their students and to add to their class library for independent reading. If you're like me, and you want to keep the most recent Spanish books in your classroom to give your students a full range of books from which to choose, you are quite busy buying books throughout the year.

Not only are there loads of novels to choose from, and more added each year, but you can find a reader/novel that takes place in almost every single Spanish country, with only one exception - Paraguay.

I like visuals, so I created a map of the countries aligned with the readers that take place in each country. 

(I'll give the authors a week or so to email me any corrections and then I'll upload the maps to google docs so you can download them if needed.)

The danger to writing this post and making the visuals, is I may have unintentionally omitted a book. If that is the case, please let me know and I can add it although it may take a few days until I can update this post. The three main sites I cross-referenced for the list above was CI Reading (blog by Mike Peto), Fluency Matters, and TPRS Books

In addition, there are some readers that are listed in language catalogs that I have that I did not add because I do not recommend them for any level. 

There are only a few books in the lists above that I have not read; some I have not read because they are not available for purchase yet. Obviously, I have my favorites and there are some on the list that I was disappointed with, for various reasons. However, that is a personal preference and what I thought was not an interesting story, may be something that one of my students like, so I continue to make as many books available to my students as I can.  
I also add a few Spanish children's books in the selection and switch them out for different ones after a month or so. Since I liked the Pepino series, I make them available too.  :)  

Monday, August 20, 2018

The True Size of... Comparing Countries by Size

Pennsylvania, in pink, is small in comparison to Spain.
There is a gem of a website   to compare the size of one country to another country, or to compare a country to a one of the 50 states, or to compare two states. Not only is it a useful site for world language teachers, but also for geography teachers, social studies teachers, and teachers that reference other countries and wants to give students a solid visual of the size of the countries.

The website, "The True Size of" enables the user to type the name of a state or country, and to overlay that state or country onto another country (or state) on a map. This helps students to visualize the size of countries that are related to the Spanish novels that I read with my students each semester.   

Some of the novels connected to people from other countries that I read with my students are:

1. Felipe Alou, by Carol Gaab  - The Dominican Republic
The aqua-colored object is the state of Pennsylvania. This picture shows that Pennsylvania is much bigger than the Dominican Republic. 

2. Fiesta Fatal, by Mira Canion - M├ęxico
Pennsylvania is dwarfed in size in comparison to Mexico.

You can overlay more than one country/state at the same time as shown below.

3. Vector, by Carrie Toth  - Panam├í
Pennsylvania (shown in yellow), is larger than Panama

4. El Silb├│n, by Craig Klein Dexemple - Venezuela
    Hasta la Sepultura, by Kristy Placido - Spain
Spain, the orange shape, is large compared to the countries in Central America, but there are several large countries in South America, such as Venezuela, that are larger than Spain.

This site can also be used for a Brain Break. Write several sentences on the board about one country compared to another country/state and students decide which sentences are true and which aren't.

a. Spain is larger than Ecuador. (España es más grande que Ecuador)
b. Spain is large than Colombia.
c. Spain is larger than Uruguay.
d. Spain is larger than El Salvador.


a. (Your state) is larger than Honduras.
b. (Your state) is smaller than Guatemala.