Friday, March 17, 2017

Air Writing & Palm Writing - A Fun Friday Activity

Brain breaks are a good idea because they're a necessity. Your students need that little bit of down time with a physical activity that allows their brain to refresh and re-energize.

Likewise, teachers need that break, but sometimes a minute or two isn't sufficient. What do you do when that happens? That's simple - take what could be a one minute brain break and extend it to 10-12 minutes.

Full disclosure - I am aware that the following activity will not provide the most "bang for your buck" when it comes to providing Comprehensible Input. However, it IS in the target language, the students will enjoy it (not a single complaint from my students today), and it will give you, the teacher, ten to fifteen minutes of minimal energy expenditure, thus reserving your energy for the more powerful Ci for the remainder of the class. In other words, it's fun and something that you may want to try one time per semester to give both the students and the teacher a breather.

Today's activity is described below. There is also a second example of how I used to do this activity more than 6 years ago but with a few changes.

Air & Palm Writing
1. Students will work with a partner.

2. Students need to put the chairs in a semi-circle as show in the diagram. The squares represent chairs (or desks if you have them in your classroom). The students in the blue squares (chairs or desks) face away from the board and students in the red squares (chairs or desks). 

3. The student in the chair facing AWAY from the marker board needs a mini whiteboard, a marker, and an eraser.

4. Palm writing: The teacher writes a word or short sentence on the board. For example: Dinos la verdad. (Tell us the truth.) Only the students facing the board are permitted to read the sentence. Those students then have to write the sentence in the air while their partner (with their back to the board) writes the letters and words onto the mini whiteboard. As soon as they have the sentence written they raise their marker board for the teacher to read. First group to have the correct sentence earns a point. (You could give 2 points to the first group and 1 point to the second and third group so they don't stop writing as soon as the first group has the correct answer.)   

Before starting, I told the students that they are not permitted to talk while they are "air writing". To indicate a new word, they made a fist and pounded their fist one time into the palm of their hand. To indicate an accent, after they "air wrote" the vowel, they then said "chsss" to make a whoosh type sound.

Confession: After the first two rounds, I added some extra words not originally planned that had accents because I liked hearing the "chsss" sounds mixed in with the palm pounding. It was also fun for me to watch the students' expressions because they were FOCUSED and intent on being the first group to finish.

I allowed students to switch seats with their partners whenever they wanted to try to be the recipient or the "air writer".

Variation: After 4 rounds, I changed the rules slightly. Instead of air writing, the students wrote on their partner's palm with their finger (not with a marker!).

Next class period I will tell the students a story about a person that tells his friend what to do (it will have a lot of commands), so the sentences that they had to "write" had commands. After a group earned points, I asked the students to verbally translate the answer into English. can't justify 10-12 minutes for this activity, directly connect your sentences to a story that you recently told the students with one word in the sentence that makes it inaccurate. After a group wins the point for being the first group to write the sentence, ask for a volunteer to verbally change the sentence to make it agree with the story.

Back Writing
Years ago when I did this activity, the students wrote on their team mates' backs and they also worked in groups of 5 or 6. You can add the "back writing" as an alternative to "air writing" and "palm writing".

Admittedly, the activity falls more accurately into the FUN category than the Powerful CI category, but sometimes it's nice to be able to throw one of these activities into the mix for a breather. Then move on and provide more CI. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

El Escape Cubano, Chaper 6-11

This is the 3rd of 3 posts with explanations of the activities than can be used when reading Mira Canion's novel, El Escape Cubano. You can find the previous blog posts by clicking on the following links: 

- Preparing to Read a Novel
- El Escape Cubano, chapters 1-5

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 6
The title of chapter 6 is "Llueve", so it's the perfect time to sing about the rain.  I use the song, "La lluvia" by Los Pompillos.  I distribute the lyrics to the song. There are 4 stanzas in the song and each stanza has 4 lines. Then I divide the class into 4 sections. Each section sings one line of each stanza.  Group 1 sings the first line in all the stanzas; group 2 sings the second line in all the stanzas; etc. 
At the end, the lyrics are "la lluvia bendita" (2x). For this groups 1 and 2 sing "la lluvia" and groups 3 and 4 sing "bendita". Everybody sings the last two words "la lluvia".

We practice before we sing by me reading a line and the group repeating. This is one of the rare times in my class that I ask students to repeat after me. The song is fast paced and I know that there is no way they will be able to sing some of the lines in unison with the members of their group and the video, but it's fun and a nice brain break. Try it! 

In chapter 6, the characters dance to the song Guantamera, which you can also play for the students beforehand. I had planned to play this song as students entered the class for several days leading up to chapter 6, but I forgot to do this. 

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 7
Acting a scene from chapter 7
Miguel and his dad and friends encounter a shark in chapter 7. It is another chapter that works well with reader's theater.  The first time I read this with my students, there was a student in my class that received in the mail a shark costume that she was going to wear for Halloween. She asked me if she could bring in the shark suit! Obviously, I said YES!! 

(The second time I read the novel with a different group of students, I used a felt board instead of acting. See Chapter 9 for a photo.)

How much do your students know about sharks? This is a good opportunity for your students to learn about sharks in the target language. I do not have this completed yet, but it is my goal to add a comprehensible reading on Tiburones before next fall when I read this novel again with my students. First I'll make a Kahoot with several questions about sharks and then follow up with the reading.
In the meantime, here are two links to websites for children that students can find information about sharks.

The second link also has easy to follow directions on how to sketch a shark.

For those that have an A-Z Reading account, there is a book on Tiburones.

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 8
After reading this chapter, students chose their partner for the next activity (or groups of 3 depending on the size of your class). I also asked for a volunteer to sketch sentences from the chapter. Each group had a small marker board, a marker, and an eraser.  I showed a sentence to the artist and she sketched it on the board. The students looked for the sentence in chapter 8 and wrote it down. I gave students a minute or so and then told them to lift up their marker boards. Groups with the correct sentence earned one point.

The document with the sentences and instructions can be found HERE.   
The student that was my artist was very talented, so I took a photo of her sketches and uploaded them to a powerpoint. The following day I projected the sketches on the powerpoint to review chapter 8. If you don't have a student that wants to be an artist, you could use the powerpoint instead of having a student artist. Click HERE for the powerpoint. 

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 9
I used to use a felt board in Spanish class on a regular basis when I was teaching the story "Cuentos de Ensalada". To mix it up a little, I cut some felt into some (very simple) shapes: the characters, (I wrote their names on the shapes to help identify them), a shark, the sun, the raft, tire innertubes, and water.  As I read the chapter, a student volunteer moved the pieces of felt to correlate with what I was reading. 

El Escape Cubano - Chapters 10 & 11
Students read the chapters on their own and wrote a short summary in English.

There you have it. 
The only thing I didn't include was the final assessment. Please understand, the reason I gave the assessment was because I was confident that the students understood the storyline and the vocabulary, so I took that opportunity to let them show their comprehension and ability to respond to questions about the plot and characters. As expected, the results of the assessment were impressive, showing the students how successful they had been in reading the novel.

Friday, March 10, 2017

El Escape Cubano, chapters 1-5

After you have introduced your students to Cuba through discussions, photos, and videos, and pre-taught vocabulary that students will encounter in the novel El Escape Cubano, by Mira Canion, you are ready to dive (no pun intended) into the book. (See this post for information on preparing to read a novel and specific ideas for El Escape Cubano.)

Below are a few of the activities I used when reading the novel with my Spanish 2 students. Every teacher has his or her own style of reading a novel with their students - some build entire units around a novel that may take a month or two, and others spend considerably less time. There is not a wrong or right way. Go with what works best for you and your particular group of students.

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 1
I've already mentioned an activity to either introduce or review "se queda" in THIS POST, but the second time I read this book with my students I added another activity:

Explain to the students that one of them (choose one of your students) has a ticket to go to a Beyonce concert and invites another person to go with him, but the night of the concert the invited person does not go along; the invited person stays home. Why? Ask students to brainstorm why a person would not go to a concert and then list the possibilities on the board, each time repeating "(name) se queda en casa porque..." 

When I planned this brainstorm activity, I thought the students would think of 5 or 6, but the list grew to more than 14 ideas, all which they expressed in Spanish.  An alternate option is to let students sketch a reason the person stays at home if they don't know how to say it in Spanish.

El Escape Cubano - Chapters 1 & 2 
Give students a piece of paper and have them fold it into 4 squares and reopen it. In each square of the paper, write one of the following names: Miguel, Yordani, Fabio, and Gloria. The teacher reads chapters 1 and 2 to the students.  As you read, the students will write information they learn about the characters. (I use this novel at the beginning of Spanish 2. The students were taught with TPRS and CI in Spanish I and have read two novels in Spanish I. They have had many experiences with similar listening comprehension activities.) 
Students share their information with each other in small groups or with the entire group.

(note: I need to create a document for this listening activity before I read this novel with a new group of students.)

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 2
A listening review to provide input of the YO form in context:  
Choose 2 students that are comfortable reading in front of the class. Give each of them a copy of the paper to the right. (The document pictured has the answers highlighted.) Tell the class that the two students in the front are Miguel and that you are going to interview him. Students listen to the two answers and write the letter (a or b) of the correct answer. 


El Escape Cubano - Review of Ch1&2
To the right is a powerpoint slide that I use the following day if I want to refresh the students' memories about the main character, Miguel. The students tell me information about Miguel and I write it directly on the board as the slide is projected.

To emphasize what Cubans went through to find a motor for their crafts used to cross the 90 miles to the US, I show the below short clip to after reading chapter 2.   

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 3
For those interested in additional repetitions of the YO form, the document to the right is a more traditional paper with questions addressed to Miguel.  Students answer as if they were Miguel, referring to the text as needed.

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 4 - TIME TO ACT!!! 
The setting and action in chapter 4 are perfect for Reader's Theater.  
- a boat shape (borrowed from my church's props)
- a blue sheet with two students holding each end and waving the material to imitate waves in the ocean

How do you bump Reader's Theater up a notch? Include sound effects and lighting!
- I turned off the main lights in the room and turned on a small lamp that I have in the back of the room. This scene takes place at night so I wanted to similate that. (For the photo I had to turn on the lights.)
- I used THIS LINK to play the sound of ocean waves in the background.

The students had fun acting and watching the acting for this chapter. When the text says a big wave pushes the mother back towards the shore, the two students stretch out the sheet out that was the wave and "pushed" the mother away from the raft. (just wait until you see the student prop for the chapter with the shark!)

A big MUST for Reader's Theater is to coach the actors.  Don't settle for mediocre acting! If it says the father yelled, then the actor needs to talk in a loud voice and don't continue until the actor delivers the line appropriately. When I need actors for Reader's Theater, I ask for volunteers. Sometimes the class "voluntold" their friends, but I always check to make sure the students is ok with being an actor. When you find someone that hams it up when acting, your job providing compelling, comprehensible input becomes easy in a snap. After acting, we applaud each of the actors as I say their name. They should be recognized for their contribution to your class!

Predictions - Ask students what are problems that Miguel and the others may encounter while they are on the raft. This is a good time to project a map of Cuba and the United States on the board (again) to remind students of the distance. As students gave suggestions, I wrote them on the board, providing an extra opportunity for students to read in Spanish.
My students said things link: no hay comida; la bolsa rompe; olas grandes; la guardia costera, and then I added a few words if necessary to make complete sentences. 

If you haven't told the students any statistics about the number of people that die each year attempting to reach the US in a raft, this would be a great time to introduce that material. I used some facts that Mira had sent me when I was piloting the book. When the teacher's guide becomes available, purchase it - it will save you hours of work!! 

El Escape Cubano - Chapter 5
Students worked with a partner for this assignment. I drew a T-chart on the board, with QUIERO and NO QUIERO, and told students to put themselves in Miguel's place and write his thoughts related to what he wants or doesn't want.
After they had a minimum of 4 thoughts on their T-charts, I asked students to share their answers and I wrote them on the board. 

Then I handed them the paper on the right and they chose one of the answers on the board, or one they had on their paper, and copied it into the bubbles on the paper.

You can expand the possible answers by not requiring students to use the words QUIERO/NO QUIERO.

I will upload the links to the documents mentioned in this post in the near future when my internet connection is being less contrary. Maybe the mid March snowstorm has something to do with the finicky connection. :/

More to come...
In the next few days I'll share some of my activities for the second half of the novel.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

1st Attempt of Ben Slavic's Invisibles Lesson

I've been reading about the Invisibles by Ben Slavic, for over 6 months, so today I decided it was time to give it a try with my Spanish 2 students. An "Invisibles" is a character that students create, assisted by the teacher's questions to draw out more information and details for the character. 

When I said "jump in", I was referring to letting go of any constraints (targeted words) and letting the character take shape as directed by the students. My job was to keep the language comprehensible, pull out more details for the character, and keep an eye on the clock to know when to call it a wrap. 

Since this is my first experience with the Invisibles, I readily admit that my explanation may likely be unclear and inadequate. Therefore, I suggest you ask to join the Facebook group, CI Liftoff, and search for discussions of the Invisibles and examples of how other CI teachers have used them with their students.

Setting Up
Before students entered my classroom, I set up the following in the back of the room:
- an artist easel that I borrowed from the art teacher 
- a large white paper (appox. 18" x 24") attached to an oversized easel pad
- a box of colorful markers
- a 3 pronged tall swivel stool

Students noticed the easel and other objects when they entered the room and I heard comments about the artist pad, and questions about what we were going to do.

After a few short CI activities to review what we had done the previous day, I explained to the class that we were going to create a character together. My colleague next door, Krista Kovalchick, (French and Latin teacher) who had done several Invisibles last semester, had said that she suggests to the students that the character is an object, rather than an animal or person. 

I began by asking for an object; not something that could breathe. The first suggestion from a student was: milk from a horse. Um...I consider myself somewhat creative but I wasn't brave enough to create my first Invisibles character that was milk from a horse, although I'm sure that would have been one interesting character. Several students gave additional suggestions and then someone suggested "una bufanda" (a scarf). That was the one that felt right and I went with it.

Our 1st Invisible
After 30 minutes, we had the above pictured character with this description (except, of course, our description was created in Spanish, but for the sake of any reading this that doesn't teach Spanish, the description is in English).

There was a scarf that was named Gair. (It is pronounced like "Gerry". I asked the student who made the suggestion to spell it in Spanish and I wrote it exactly as he said. There is no "y" because I don't think he knew how to say that in Spanish so he ended the name.)
Gair was black with red crosses. He always wore an orange tie and a blue hat that had a white circle in the front. He had a nose and one eye, which was to the right of his nose. He had two big, blue ears that were above his nose. He did not have a mouth.  
I asked the students if Gair didn't have a mouth, how did people know if he was happy or sad. Their response was...When Gair was happy, he wore his hat with the white circle in the front and when he was sad he wore the hat with the white circle facing the back.
Gair lived in the water in a swamp. He had a brown dog.
One girl took it upon herself to start spinning a story. She used one of the words that was used in a story last week (it wasn't a focus word but she obviously had acquired it) and said, "One day Gair lost his hat and he was angry." I asked the class how someone would know that Gair was angry without a mouth and since the hat only showed if he was happy or sad.  A student said, "When Gair was angry, his blue ears dropped down below his mouth instead of above his mouth.

It took my students a little time to loosen up and freely give suggestions. The best part was when a student described how people knew Gair was angry. It's not often that that particular student participates in class without being called on, so his response was evidence that he was engaged and listening, and creating in the language. 

With the remaining 5 minutes of class time, the students wrote 5 sentences about Gair and several students shared their sentences with the class.

So.... the next step? I'm uncertain as to what that should be. I'm planning to write the full description on the board as the students copy it into their composition books. And after that...? Looks like I have to check with Krista or ask someone on the CI Liftoff Facebook page for ideas.

My take-aways: 
- Grammatically, the activity provided a lot of repetitions of he wore, he had, he was, he lived, there were.
- It was a good review of colors.
- As the character began to develop with more details, the students became more engaged, at least in their observable behaviors.
- I should encourage Jason Fritze's technique for student participation during this activity. Jason tells his elementary students to call out and only to raise their hands if they have a question.  
- The artist needs to take his/her job seriously. My artist took her job seriously; I lucked out with that because I didn't set any clear expectations.
- In a way, creating Invisibles is a variation of creating background information for a person from a photo. An example of this is my post, "Engaging lesson plans for the Imperfect Tense".  It's similar but certainly not the same thing!

I'm open to suggestions from any teachers that have used Invisibles in their classroom. What's next? What do you do differently? 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thank You CI Authors!

While reading a student novel last week, I had a deeper appreciation and realization of how fortunate we are, as second language teachers, to have a growing number of CI-focused authors that provide us with a steady stream of COMPREHENSIBLE and COMPELLING novels for our students. These authors have taken writing for second language learners to a new level.

However, not all novels written for second language learners are created equal; far from it! 

For several years I have been doing an activity with my students beyond level 3 called "Book Talks". Students choose a novel, read it, and then they sign up on the Book Talk calendar to talk with me in Spanish about the book. 

In order for me to talk about the books, I need to have read them, all of them. I've read the books from the authors that I know and those whose books are published by publishers that have a strong record of selling comprehensible and compelling books. However, there are a few books that I ordered from a world language catalog (it will remain unnamed), that I haven't read. I think it's fair to say I'm an optimistic person, and although I have been greatly disappointed with many of the novels from this source in the past, I continue to purchase a few books each year with the hopes that things will change for the better and I will find a few compelling and comprehensible books to add to my classroom library.

Well, last week I was "forced" to read one of those books, because a student signed up for a time to discuss her book and it was a new one that I had not yet read.  I spent my planning period reading the book and it was a painful experience. The story line was dull and predictable. As I was reading it, I felt as if the writer was specifically including words from a textbook vocabulary list and checking them off after the words were added to the story. Instead of being drawn into the story, I found myself time and again, checking to see how any pages remained. If I had to read more novels like that, I would lose my love of reading very quickly.

I look forward to talking to the student this week so I can guide her towards a more compelling story for her next novel.  She moved into our school district this year and had no experience reading Spanish novels on her own or in class. I want her to know that there are many books available at or below her level that are interesting and will be an enjoyable experience.

In my experience of reading novels specifically written for second language learners, I've learned that there are two types of books: 1) those that are written with the goal to use X number of vocabulary words, and 2) those that have an interesting story that the author has written in a manner that makes it comprehensible to the reader. When the author focuses on the story first, and works to develop the plot and the characters, they have a better chance of writing a book that students will find appealing. The STORY is the focus; making it comprehensible is the goal.  The second type of book is a treasure that the community of CI writers have shared with second language teachers. They use their gift in writing and our students benefit.

I originally wanted to write a list of authors whose books I would recommend without reservations, but I'm certain I would miss a few and I don't want to take that risk.  Instead, I'll suggest a few publishers and you will easily find dozens of compelling books at the websites. 

There are MANY compelling and comprehensible books available today, especially for Spanish teachers. Don't settle for ho-hum. 

Check out these publishers (listed alphabetically) or websites that tell you where to find books by independent publishers.  

CI Reading
Fluency Fast

Fluency Matters
Mira Canion
Sr. Wooly - new graphic novel
TPRS Books


Monday, February 20, 2017

Preparing to Read a Novel: Ideas for El Escape Cubano and other novels in general

Reading novels with my students is an important element to my curriculum, as well as SSR. Preparing to read the novel involves a great deal of backwards planning on my part to ensure the students have the cultural background knowledge to understand the plot and the location to better connect to the book. Even when I am certain that the book I am going to read with the students is at their level or below their current reading level, I search the chapters for words and/or structures unfamiliar to my students, and then plan stories and CI activities to introduce those words to the students. I look for words that are high frequency and/or that are important to the plot. My goal is that when the students read those words in the novel, they will immediately recognize them and understand their meaning. When that happens, the students' minds are freed up to focus on the action and the plot and more deeply enjoy the story.

Last fall I read Mira Canion's "El Escape Cubano" with my Spanish 2 students for the first time. The book is about a family escaping from Cuba and is written from the perspective of a young 13 year old boy as the action occurs.  Most importantly, the subject matter connects with growing interest in Cuba, but as a teacher, I like that the book is packed with first person singular in the present tense. When my students read the book, I know they will be receiving an enormous amount of compelling, comprehensible input in the YO form.  In all levels, I choose a first novel that is below their reading level. One reason is because I want to give the students a confidence boost, but the bigger drive behind this decision is to accommodate the students that haven't had Spanish class for a year or longer, which is not an uncommon scenario when you teach on a 5x5 block schedule.

This year, second semester started on January 17, 2017, and I started reading the novel, El Escape Cubano, with my students on Wednesday, February 15. That's a month of CI activities, some specifically chosen with El Escape Cubano in mind. In other words, the vocabulary from El Escape Cubano is pre-taught over weeks, which allows me to provide a lot of repetitions in different contexts.

Below are a few activities to pre-teach vocabulary that are specific to El Escape Cubano, but the general ideas can be used with culture and vocabulary specific to any novel. The suggestions below are BEFORE READING activities. I will write additional blog posts to share the class activities and plans for specific chapters. 

1. Look at the CI activities and stories you are currently using with your students to see if there is an easy opening to include one of the vocabulary words from the novel. 

On the first day of Spanish 2, students receive construction paper on which they need to draw 3 things: 
- what they like to do, 
- a favorite place/where they like to go
- their favorite class from last semester or last year

Throughout the next several weeks, students take turns being "interviewed", in Spanish, about what they have sketched. Over the years, I've noticed that many students choose to draw palm trees, or beaches and swimming, for their favorite place. One of my questions is with whom do they go to the beach and then I follow that question with, "cuando tu familia va a la playa, ¿se queda tu familia en un hotel, se queda en una casa, o se queda en un apartamento?"

This was already an activity in my lesson plans before Mira's book was written, but now, since I know students will need to know se queda for the first few chapters of El Escape Cubano, I make certain to ask this question and discuss the students' answers more in-depth. I also weave in uses of quedarme and quedarse in questions or my responses/dialogue so students hear that structure also.

2. Use photos and personals experiences that include vocabulary you want to pre-teach.  
At some point in the first few weeks when the students and I are talking about pets, and this subject always comes up because everyone likes to talk about their pets, I project this photo of my dog, Cooper. Cooper has acres and acres of room to enjoy and explore on our family farm, but when he sees movement on the other side of the road on our neighbor's farmland, such as a groundhog, a squirrel, or other animal, he leaves our farm and runs after it. I show this powerpoint slide to my students and we talk about Cooper and how he doesn't STAY (se queda) at home and sometimes he CROSSES (cruza) the street.

3. Use riddles and jokes. Riddles are fun to use in the classroom because it gives the students the chance to stretch their minds and think outside of the box WHILE solving the problem in a second language.  
I gave this riddle (shown right) to my students on the day before we read chapter 1. Students had to write the solution for what object the man takes across the river and what objects he leaves behind. It can be solved in 7 steps. The arrows are helpful in reminding the students in which direction the man is going each trip. I told the students to write what the man takes in the balsa with him and leaves behind for each trip. When students work together to solve the riddle, they write sentences using se queda, la balsa, and deja. The link to access the document is HERE. If you have problems accessing it, please let me know.

4. Short films (MovieTalk) and TPRS. Look at the film shorts you currently use to see if they would serve their purpose better at a different time in the semester, i.e. before a novel. If you can't find anything that specifically meets your needs, write a story that includes vocabulary and structures from the novel and "storyask" a la TPRS.    
My school subscribes to Discovery Streaming and there is a video series on Discovery Steaming named My Tienda de Luis. I use the first segment (videos 1,2, 5 & 6) in Spanish 2 to provide a large amount of comprehensible input at the beginning of the semester. (This was part of our curriculum even before Mira's book, El Escape Cubano, was published.) Fortunately, the actions SUBE and BAJA occur often in this segment. I also have a story that I "storyask" my students that involves a taxi driver and the people that get in and out of his cab. If students didn't know SUBE and BAJA before entering Sp2 they know/have acquired them after the Discovery Education series and the TPRS taxi story. 

5. Culture - Vimeo. Everyone knows there are videos available on YouTube for any topic, but have you considered checking Vimeo first? Do a search on Vimeo for the country or for an event/celebration in a country, and you will most likely find a short film that is appropriate for class.  
There are two videos about Cuba on Vimeo that I use to help the students envision the land and people of Cuba.  The first one is "Cuba 2016" which you can find HERE. I give the students a paper with a grid of the following categories: la ciudad/las casas; deportes; transportación; terreno; animales, la escuela; cosechas/agricultora; pasatiempos; and música. Students watch the video and write information about the above category that is shown in the video. They also have to guess which country it is. There are a few seconds near the beginning of the video when it the title is on the screen so I disconnect the computer from the projector for those few students so the answer isn't shown. Then we discuss what they have written about Cuba.

The second video on Cuba I show is also from Cuba. You can find it HERE. This gives more footage of Cuba and it's people.

6. Culture - powerpoint. You don't have to create everything by yourself, especially when there are excellent resources that teachers sell on TeachersPayTeachers or that they share on their blogs and at conferences or even during Twitter chats such as #langchat.   
I used this Fidel Castro powerpoint (pictured at right) by Martina Bex to introduce students to Fidel Castro  and Cuba. One of the slides that my students found particularly interesting was how food was rationed for the people in Cuba. In the future, I am envisioning expanding this with an activity to demonstrate to the students how difficult it is to live with such meager rations. I have some ideas, but they'll have to wait until summer.  

7. Maps and facts. Do the students know where the novel takes place? Could they find it on a map? What does the location itself tell us about the country? Cuba is 90 miles from the coast of Florida so I made a powerpoint with the map of Cuba and the United States to give the students a visual of the distance. I listed two cities that are 90 miles from our high school to compare that distance with the distance between Cuba and the US. There are also photos of Cubans trying to cross the stretch of water between Cuba and Florida. Those pictures help impress upon the students the cramped space, primitive boat/raft structures, and the dangerous conditions that people endure in their attempt to reach Florida. Those photos are followed by I statistics on how long the trip takes and the number of people that die each year.

The above are examples that I specifically used before reading El Escape Cubano, but there are other possibilities depending on the novel and the level of your students. Think outside of the box. Take a risk. And then share with others so we can continue improving our teaching.       

I'm excited to share in other blog posts what I've done with some of the chapters, but it's 60 degrees in February and we have off school for President's Day, so it's time to go enjoy the weather, with that crazy dog Cooper.  :-)