Saturday, July 20, 2019

One Word Images & ChatterPIX PLUS App Smashing

I stumbled across an app earlier this year that when combined with One Word Images (OWI were originally created by Ben Slavic. Read about & watch a video of a OWI on Mike Peto's Blog) will provide various possibilities for World Language teachers. 

The app is called ChatterPix and it is available for IOS devices AND Android devices. Better yet, it is FREE! As soon as I saw the app I couldn't wait to add it to my presentation "Make Technology Count in the CI Classroom" for #iFLT19 in St. Petersburg, Florida, to share it with other world language teachers.

The ChatterPIX app allows you to upload a photo, draw a line for a mouth on a person or on any object that is in the photo, and then you record your voice and the "mouth" moves as you are recording.

When I was experimenting with the app and searching for photos on my camera roll, I came across a photo of a OWI that my Spanish class had created and the idea to use the app on the OWI was born.

On the right is a photo of the OWI my Spanish class created. To summarize, Mahe is an umbrella that is afraid of rain and has a friend that is a sponge. (If you're wondering how did we decide on a name such as Mahe; students couldn't agree on a name so I asked four students to tell me a letter of the alphabet and from those letters I created the name Mahe. šŸ˜‚)

I uploaded the photo to ChatterPix and added the voice.

Some of the uses when combining ChatterPIX with OWIs are:

- teacher creates the recording for students to access for additional input
- teacher creates the recording with the OWI asking true/false or short answer questions for students to answer
- teacher creates the recording with a few changes to the details/story; students  find the differences between the recording and the original class story
- students create a recording as if they were the object; summarize information about the object
- students create a recording as if they were the object; add new information about the OWI (character)

In general, students can use ChatterPIX for presentational mode, especially for students that don't want to have their own photo on the end product. The finished products can be uploaded to your school's LMS (Learning Management System, such as Schoology, Canva, Edmodo, etc.)

- students draw a character from a novel the class is reading and record as if the students are the character; what are his/her thoughts on what is happening?; what does he/she hope does/doesn't happen?; how does s/he feel?
- choose a painting and have the painting tell what is represents (great for art "units")
- teacher uses photo and records a voice; students decide if what the person or object says is logical or illogical in reference to what is happening in the photo
- students create a comic strip and upload it to a powerpoint or googleslides; make characters talk with ChatterPIX

Below is an example that MadameMoran tweeted which uses ChatterPIX. (#greatmindsthinkalike) šŸ˜Š


If you want to step into App Smashing, try combining a app or website that removes the background in photos of people (and objects if you're willing to pay extra or do extra detailed work), then add a new background for the people in the photo, and make either the people talk with ChatterPIX or pick an object in the photo to talk TO the people. (Thanks to Krista Kovalchick for permission to use the photo with her and me.)

Below is a screenshot of a slide from my Tech Presentation at #iflt19 on Appsmashing with ChatterPIX and the website followed by the steps I followed to create the above video.

1. Take a photo. Make sure there are not other people in the background!

2. Upload the photo to and remove the background. Download the photo from the website.

3. Choose another photo to which you want to add the person/people on the downloaded file from (My friend, Karen, sent the photo in this step when she was at Epcot and I was at in-service. Years ago I was at Epcot but not with Krista, the woman in the photo with me.)

4. Layer the edited photo from to the new background.

5. Upload the new photo to ChatterPIX. Choose a person or an object to animate with a voice. Download the video with voice recording to your camera roll or computer for use in your world language classroom.

This website takes all the work out of removing backgrounds. I used it with ChatterPIX but I'm sure you'll find uses for it for other activities in your World Language Classroom. Or, have fun using it and surprising your friends with the photos. After all, having fun with tech shouldn't be limited to our classrooms!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - Great Features using the DrawRoom and creating DrawSets

In my previous blog post I wrote about using the DrawRoom of the website for:
- Weekend Chats
- Learning about Classmates
- Review a Novel
- Predictions
- Storytelling and TPRS Stories

Today, I received a message from Kara Jacobs of CE Resources (Check out her blog. It is a treasure trove of resources for Spanish teachers):

Then Kara sent me some screenshots of several DrawSets that she had created and said if teachers could share the DrawSets with each other, it would be an excellent resource for those reading the same novels with their students. AWESOME idea, Kara!! (The answer to her question is at the end of the blog post.)

I started experimenting with the DrawSets features with sentences from novels. I chose the Frida Kahlo novel written by Kristy Placido (find it at Fluency Matters) because I read that with my Sp4 students. These are the steps to create a DrawSet and how to use it with students:

1. On the home page of CHARLALA, on the left column click on DrawRoom. 

2. Click on Create New DrawSet.

3. Type your title. I haven't figured out how to edit the title of the DrawSet after the DrawSet has been created, so be mindful of the exact title you want for your DrawSet.

4. Add the terms (words) or phrases to your DrawSet. I chose 6 sentences from chapter 5 of Frida Kahlo when Frida and her dad are walking in the park, her dad has an epileptic attack, a boy sees Frida occupied with helping her dad and tries to steal her father's camera. 

5. Click on Start DrawRoom. I opened the DrawSet for "students" (in quotations because I was experimenting at home with several devices, but I will refer to the devices as students. In two days I am going to use this feature with students at school but until then I'll use the examples and screenshots from my devices I used at home). 

6. Choose "Game", adjust settings for time, music, choose which set you want to use on the drop down menu (only after you have created DrawSets), then click on START.

7. The screen will display the following message (website and code to enter) and students enter the DrawRoom using the code.

8.   After students have entered the DrawRoom, click on START.

9. The students screen will display one of the terms or one of the phrases that the teacher created in the DrawRoom. (see screenshot below). The student needs to draw the term or phrase and then click on FINISH to send it to the teacher and enter it in the sketches that will be shown in the game. Some students will receive the same term/phrase which is not a problem.
Student screen with Drawing Prompt

Student screen - click on FINISH to submit drawing

10. The teacher can end the ability for students to draw at any time. If your students are taking a long time to draw, you decide how much time you give them to draw.

11. The teacher then starts the game. The teacher's screen will display one of the sketches and the students' screens will display several choices and the students match the term/phrase to the sketch. 
Teacher's screen

Student screen

12. Students receive points for correctly matching the term/phrase to the sketch.

13. When you end the game, you have the opportunity to download as many of the student sketches as you want. How COOL is that? After downloading the sketches, you can use them as a review the following class.

To answer Kara's questions, I emailed Chris, the creator of Charlala, and he said the ability to share DrawSets with other teachers is something they will add in the future.

How is it possible that this website keeps getting better and better? 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Student Engagement & in the WL Classroom

Don't you love it when someone creates a new tool that, as soon as you learn about it, your mind starts thinking of numerous ways you can use it in class? That's what happened when I first saw a tweet about the website

I predict that after learning about you are going to wish you had more days of school with your students. Yes - Really! is a website created by Chris Hammer, a world language curriculum specialist and a grade 2-8 Spanish teacher. has several features but the one I'll focus on in this post is the DrawRoom with Game Mode and Conversation Mode. (Other features of the site allow the teacher to create a video in which the teacher records himself asking a question and then sets a time limit for how long the student has to answer the recorded questions, somewhat similar to what CLEAR by Michigan State University used to have.)

I used the DrawingRoom in with my students for the first time today and it was a big hit. These are the various ways I used this site:

Collage of downloaded images from of Weekend chat
The first day of the school week, I start class with a Weekend Chat. There are probably 101 ways to do this, but with there are now 102 ways. 

I told students that we were going to chat about the weekend, but we were going to use the iPads to draw. That alone prompted some cheers. I projected my screen with the web address and the # for students to enter the DrawRoom. Then I gave students the prompt (in the TL of course), "What did you do this weekend that was your favorite activity?" Students sketched their answers, then I projected them and we talked about each of them, asking more questions and giving students additional input on each of the activities we highlighted.  

In a different class, I asked students what was their favorite activity and their least favorite activity. They drew both of them on the same sketch. Below is a screenshot of some of the responses and how that appears on the teacher screen. 
Teacher view as sketches are submitted by students.

Bucket List before student turns 30
There were 11 students in one of my classes, so I asked them to draw what they hope to do before they are 30 years old. (I explained the prompt in Spanish, the target language.) But this time I did not want them to see the names of their classmates above the sketches, (see above for an example), so I did not project my screen. As students submitted their sketches, I downloaded each one (it's a SNAP to download the submitted sketches) and I transferred them directly on a powerpoint.

After all the sketches were submitted, I told the students to number a paper 1-11. I showed all of the sketches to the students so they could preview them. Then I started with the first sketch and directed students to write the name of the person and what that person wants to do before they are 30. Example: Peter quiere ser el presidente de los EE.UU. (Peter wants to be the President of the United States.)

Note: To be clear, the collage of the 4 sketches on the left, I added the colored background when I put the sketches on the Powerpoint slide. If students want a solid color background, they have to add that in their drawing. 

After students wrote a short sentence for each sketch, we went back to #1 slide and I asked students who they had guessed for #1. If it was wrong I asked the incorrectly guessed student what s/he had as an answer. Each time the students were hearing reps of the sentence. This would be great at any level!

If the students are not able to write the sentences, the teacher can project his computer screen and then describe a sketch and students guess which sketch is being described. If you don't want students names on it, you can download the sketches and put 4 or so on a powerpoint slide.

3. REVIEW A NOVEL (or Other Text)
My Spanish 4+ students are reading 48 Horas by Carrie Toth. Before the 3-day weekend the students took their writing and speaking part of the final with the seniors, which means when we returned from Memorial Day Weekend, we hadn't read the novel for several days. To review the novel, I opened the DrawRoom for the students and told them to sketch something that happened in  chapter 1-10. 

After students submitted their sketches, I clicked on the sketches and asked students what they thought the sketch depicted. It was a novel way to review the novel! Several of the sketches are shown below. 

By the way, if you don't have the novel, 48 Horas, I strongly recommend it!

When reading a novel, students can draw their predictions of what will happen next. The sketches give the students the ability to share their opinions without the language barrier and also provides the opportunity for the teacher to talk about the predictions in the target language.

You can use in place of activities when you used to have the students draw on paper. I'm not suggesting that you completely eliminate drawing on paper, students of all ages enjoy that from time to time, but if your administration is expecting to see use of technology when they observe your class, the website makes it possible. The best part is that you can easily share the sketches with the whole class AND you can download the sketches to use on other documents and to review at a later date.

I attended an hour webinar hosted by Chris Hammer this evening in which he demonstrated how can be used when telling a story to the class. During the demonstration, Chris chose several sketches as the "masterpieces". If you continue to choose a masterpiece for each section of the story, after the story is completed you can download a pdf of the sketches and use that document to review the story the following day, for the students to use the sketches as a retell, or possibly to complete a Write and Discuss with the sketches on a document of the students to write on.

The screenshot below shows the masterpieces on the right upper corner. 

After closing the DrawRoom, you will have the option to download the pdf.

Ohhh, the possibilities! It's easy to see that this new tool (which I think Chris first introduced it in August 2018) will be useful in the ways I outlined above and many other ways.  

This spring, when the administrators were working on the teaching schedules for the 2019-2020 school year, I requested to have some Spanish 1 classes to work on the curriculum. (You can't imagine how difficult it was for me to give up my level 2 students for one year, but I felt it was in the best interest of the program, regardless of how much I would miss teaching that level!) Anyway, I am looking forward to using this website with my Spanish 1 classes in the fall, as well as my upper level classes. 

The site is currently in Beta. I suggest you spend some time this summer checking it out and exploring the possibilities. Chris Hammer, the creator of the site, welcomes feedback from teachers and is quick to respond to those suggestions. He is constantly improving and updating the site. In this evening's webinar, he mentioned several updates that they will work on over the summer and I'm sure that it will be even more AMAZING when the new school year rolls around.

If you have some great ideas on how you will use this in your classroom, I would LOVE to hear about them. 

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, "SeƱora, 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. šŸ˜‚ 

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 EngaƱen 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 "estĆ©rile, 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. NĆ©stor (4)
  D. La bĆŗsqueda (3)
  E. La primera manifestaciĆ³n (7)
  F. Gustavo NiƱo (6)
  G. Arrestado (5)
  H. La desapariciĆ³n 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.