Wednesday, February 27, 2013

March is Children's Books Month

This morning when I packed another children's book into my bag for school, I decided that March was going to be Children's Books Month for my Spanish 5 class.  Every school day in March, I will begin my Spanish 5 class by reading a children's book in Spanish.  I am very fortunate to live within 10 minutes of the community library which has a huge collection of Spanish books.  The photo above shows only a small section of the Spanish books, magazines, CDs, read-along stories, and videos available in Spanish at the library.  

I have always loved reading children's books - to my children (in English) when they were young, after college when I found a separate Spanish library in town, and now with my students in all different levels. 

I consider reading books as the #1 way to build vocabulary and increase fluency. Children's books have several advantages:
-  they're interesting
-  they have beautiful illustrations
if students read those books when they were young, it brings back good memories for them
grammar is not sheltered. Books written for young children have advanced grammar used in context in a compelling way.  Exactly what my higher level students need to help move them along.

Yesterday in Spanish 5 (which in reality is Spanish 4 based on the hours of instruction they have had), I read "Si le das un panecillo a un alce" (If you give a Moose a Muffin).  Today I read "Sapo en Invierno" (Frog in Winter)The students' interest and participation confirmed my decision this morning to make March "Children's Books' Month".   

Yesterday the story contained the word "hilo" (thread) and today's story had "con un hilito de voz" (a small thread of a voz).  The students were able to understand the expression today after I asked if they remembered seeing the word in yesterday's story.
Building vocabulary - for sure - and increasing fluency.  

I'm a looking forward for March!    

Children's Books to review the Subjunctive and Future Tenses

If you can find the well-known children's book "If you give a moose a muffin" by Laura Numeroff in your target language, then you are set for an engaging and fun activity that is perfect for upper level language classes.  The storyline makes it easy to practice more advanced grammar structures such as the subjunctive and the future tenses in context.  

I started the class by reading the book to my students, using the document camera to project the book onto the whiteboard. I asked questions about vocabulary that I knew they didn't know beforehand but they were able to guess what it meant by the storyline and illustrations (such as "titeres"-puppets; "cuernos"-horns, "arbustos"-bushes, etc.). From time to time I would ask in Spanish, "What does ____ mean?" to help draw their attention to new vocabulary.

After reading, I told my students it was their turn to write a story using the same format.  I gave them a chance to work in small groups or together as a large group, and they chose the large group - what a surprise, right?

Below is the story that the class made together, with the use of the present subjunctive and future tenses mixed in the sentences.  This worked as a nice review for those students that didn't have the previous level of Spanish last semester without having to pull out worksheets.

Si le das panqueques a un pingüino, el querrá jarabe de Canadá.
Cuando le des jarabe de Canadá, él querrá ir a Canadá.
Una vez que llegue el pingüino a Canadá, nadará en el Río Niagara.
Tan pronto como el pingüino vea a una pingüina atractiva, ellos se besarán.
Cuando él no preste atención, el novio de la pingüina se acercará y lo pegará en la cabeza.
Cuando el pingüino llore, las elefantes que se llaman Shirley y Rosa, lo llevarán al hospital.
El pingüino se mejorará y les pedirá a las elefantes que salgan con él a un restaurante.
Ellos irán a un restaurante de panqueques y  cuando el pingüino lea el menú en el restaurante, le pedirá panqueques a la mesera y, en ese momento, él pensará de ti.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pinterest & Educreations - Do they play together well?


I'm looking for some tech help from someone on my PLN.  Do you know if there is a way I can directly Pin my Educreations videos DIRECTLY on Pinterest?  

Or, must I first embed the Educreations videos on my blog and then Pin the blog post to Pinterest?

I'd like to put some videos on Pinterest but I don't particularly want to post them on my blog first.

Sample Educreations video below:

A New Perspective on Parent-Teacher Conferences

I had an "ah-ha" moment after our Parent-Teacher Conferences on Thursday night.  Three parents had signed up for conferences.  The very first thing the first parent mentioned was when she went to Back-to-School Night the previous week, she was excited to hear about the method we are now using to teach languages.  She went on to say that she couldn't believe how much her child was able to read and understand after only a few weeks of Spanish 2. (Students have had several homework assignments in which they have to read stories to their parents in English, so through this the parents are also able to watch their progression in their language abilities.)

That sentiment was repeated in the following two conferences, along with each of them mentioning that their son or daughter enjoyed the class and was planning on taking the next level.  One parent, that wasn't even signed up for a conference, stopped in to say hello and echoed the words of the others, saying how much her daughter enjoyed learning Spanish and wanted to take as many levels available at our school.  

Hearing those comments was a confirmation that we are on the right track with CI/TPRS methods of teaching languages. Students are enjoying the classes because they, and apparently their parents too, are able to see their success and progress in their language abilities.

The "ah-ha" moment came when one parent mentioned that their child felt a little frustrated with the Discovery Streaming video that we are working with in class.  It made me reflect on the pace I was using when narrating the video.  Was I going too fast and not recognizing that the input wasn't comprehensible to all of the students?  Was I determining my pacing on the students that were calling out the correct answers and overlooking those that weren't answering? That's the "ah-ha" part, not only are conferences beneficial to discuss a student's progress with their parent, but it also is a medium for feedback on whether or not I was succeeding in making the input comprehensible.  Parent-teacher conferences can help the teacher too.  Hmmm - I never looked at it that way before. I was always focused on "what can I tell the parent that will help their child succeed in class", instead of also considering "what can I learn from the parents' remarks that will help ME improve my instruction for the benefit of all the students".

The next day, my number one goal was to make sure what I was saying was comprehensible to ALL the students.  I did more comprehension checks and when I saw indications that some were struggling, I back tracked and slowed down the instruction, looked into their eyes, pointed at the words with their English translations on the board, and paused.

In my opinion, the conferences I had with the 3 (really 4) parents were successful because, 1) I was able to have a few minutes to discuss their child's progress in Spanish, and 2) I received and looked for information in their comments that could help me in my use of TCI in the classroom.  It is the students that will benefit the most from this win-win situation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

7 Ideas for Teaching Reflexive Verbs

Following is a collection of lessons and activities that deals with Reflexive Verbs.  I listed them below to share them with you and also to have a place for me to refer.  Some of the activities are based on resources only provided through paid subscriptions, and others are based on resources that are free.

Please note, that I do NOT recommend teaching a "unit" on reflexive verbs, as I used to do in my pre-CI/preTPRS days.  However now, with CI/TPRS, I make sure to add a few reflexive verbs as focus words in stories (*see below) from the early days of Spanish 1 and continue doing so throughout the semester and the following year in Spanish 2 , to students start becoming familiar with seeing reflexive pronouns before the verbs.  My suggestion is to sprinkle these activities among others so it doesn't feel like a "unit".


1. Froggy Se Viste. I'm fortunate in that my community library has a huge Spanish section.  I regularly search through the books for ones that I can use in class.  Each semester I use Froggy se Viste" to teach "se quitó", "se puso", and "se durmió" (awoke, took off, put on, and fell asleep). 

For a novel way to present this book, use a flannel board and flannel pieces of clothing and a frog. I found this blog on which Katie used a flannel board.  Do they still use flannel boards in elementary school? Either way, the students will enjoy listening to the story when presented in a less common way.

Check your community or neighboring counties, for libraries with Spanish sections. Lots of resouces at NO COST!

2. A-Z Reading. This is a website with children's books.  It costs under $100 a year, but that will give you access to hundreds of books.  You can project the books onto your board, many with the "wordless" option.  The site has other tools so you type your own words for the story, highlight words, make word banks with pull-down arrows to appear or disappear when you don't want them available.  There is also an option to print small version of any of the books.  The books are in English, Spanish, and French.

I use the books "Getting Ready for School" and Hora de Ir a la cama".


3. Mr Bean!  How can you not enjoy a video by Mr. Bean?  Two videos that have a lot of reflexive verbs are "Mr. Getting Up Late for the Dentist" and "Mr. Bean goes to Bed"I pause the video throughout the entire video, and we talk about different things that are happening, how the characters feel, and other. Then I took screenshots of different scenes of the story and we talk about those.

4. Mis Cositas - My Daily Routine. A young child talks about his daily routine.   

5. "No Voy a Levantarme" by Sr. Wooly.  To gain access to Sr. Wooly's site, you'll need a one-year subscription that costs $25.  Don't hesitate to pay it! There are several great videos along with the option to print the lyrics, print Cloze exercises, and other ideas.  

Sr. Wooly redid the audio for this video and put it on his blog on 2/20/13.  My students LOVED this video.  First I had the students watch the video.  The second and third time they filled out a cloze activity provided on the website as they listened to it. Later, we translated the lyrics (everyone stands; after a student translated a section to English, they were permitted to sit down).  Today we talked about the video for most of the class period. (¿Cómo se llamaba el chico? ¿Dónde estaba él? ¿Qué hora era? ¿Se despertó as las siete? ¿Se despertó a las cinco o a las seis? ¿Cuándo se despertó? ¿Se despertó a las seis de la mañana o a las seis de la tarde? ¿Oyó a su madre? ¿Oyó su perro? ¿Qué oyó Justin? ¿Se levantó a las seis? etc)  Then I asked the students, "what didn't he do at 6:00 in the morning?  All the students stood and they each told me a sentence with the verb in the past tense - no repeating verbs.  We also then talked about twins - what didn't THEY do?
6.  Destiny.  I haven't actually used this video yet in class, but I have plenty of ideas for it. The character relives his morning several times so there it is easy to give needed repetitions on reflexive and other verbs.   

If handled correctly, this video could be used in many other ways in the MFL.  I'm still working on developing a lesson using this video for something other than reflexive verbs, but I decided to add it here because of the repetition on getting awake, getting up, and getting reading for work.
7. *Video - Last month I used this video and used CI to narrate the events in the video in Spanish. I used "se levantó" and "se sentó" (he stood up and he sat down) throughout the narration.  We have used those words before, so this was a nice reinforcement. (see this post for more information)


8. TPR. To teach a larger amount of verbs during one class, teach the verbs with gestures.  After you add a new gesture, practice the previous ones, adding new words and gestures.  If you make the gestures huge (which is what I usually do) and you, yourself, have fun doing the gestures, your enthusiasm and energy will be contagious, and the students will have fun too.  

9.  Reflection in the Mirror.  I got this idea from another MFL teacher but I cannot remember whom.  After the students have been introduced to the reflexive verbs that relate to someone's morning routine, have them act out the actions. The twist is that one person does the actions and the 2nd student has to be the 1st student's reflection.  I narrate what the person does from the time they get up until when they go to school.  A variation would be to have two sets of students doing this activity at the same time and then ask the students which group is more insync.  

4/23/13 Update: For additional ideas and resources for teaching reflexive verbs click HERE to go to SpanishPlans blog. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Number Game for the MFL

Games that I plan for my students have to meet some pretty high standards and expectations.  Having said that, yesterday's game activity was not one that falls into the typical TPRS, input based game, but the students had just listened to 40+ solid minutes of narrating, circling, and questioning of 2 short video segments and I knew it was time for a brain break.

Brainbreak choice: "Noventa y Nueve".  "Noventa y Nueve" is a game I found on Sr. The instructions how to play are conveniently provided on a video in which Sr. Wooly clearly explains the game as he plays it with several of his students.  He also provides a worksheet to download with useful Spanish phrases to say during the game, along with the values for each card.  (You do not have to login to watch the video or download the worksheet even though I strongly recommend buying a year subscription to his web site!)

First, I told my students to form groups of 4 or 5. Then I showed them 6 minutes of the video explanation.  AFTER the video explanation, I handed out the paper that I had downloaded from his website, distributed the card decks, and students played the games in groups.  I also wrote the multiples of ten on the board to help the students. By that time, they only had 6-8 minutes remaining in the class to play.  ALL of the students were engaged, adding the points on the pile, and saying those numbers in Spanish.

It was a nice way to spend the last few minutes of class.  Many of the students asked to play it again so I'll add it to the last 8-10 minutes of one class next week or the following week.

By pure coincidence, that evening I read Michele Whaley's post "The last five minutes" that mentions how humans respond to the end part of a trip, class, workshop, etc. I'm fairly certain that if the students happened to mention their Friday Spanish class to someone, it was the "Noventa y Nueve" game that stuck out in their minds.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Make Dice App

If you are searching for an app that you can use in a writing activity, then the Make Dice app is something you should look into. After I saw it mentioned on Twitter this morning, so I promptly downloaded the free version of the app.  The app allows you to have up to 6 dice on the "table" at one time.  There is a limit to the number of letters and characters that will fit on each side of the dice.  

For the Spanish 4 activity, I made 4 die: 1 with names of cities, 1 with something that the character of the story wanted, and 2 with problems that the character faces. (scroll to end of post to see the list of words on each dice)

We ran out of time today for the writing activity, so instead of pairing up the students, we modeled an example of a creative writing with the information rolled on the die.  Tomorrow, the students will work with a partner to complete their creative writing. 

Last semester, I was looking for more ways to reinforce the nosotros form.  By adding a dice with subjects such as "Tatum Channing y yo" or "mi amigo y yo" it would require the students to use a certain form.  Make all the dice the same form (all nosotros or all ellos) to be certain all writings will include that form.

Another way to use the Make Dice app is during "storyasking".  If you have a group of students that either doesn't offer information for the story or takes forever to decide on the facts for the story, a shortcut is to have possible answers on the different dice (i.e. 1 with names; 1 with the type of pet they had; 1 with forms of transportation; etc).  This would save time and allow for more repetitions AND add some interest into the storyasking.

In years past, I probably would have used this app to write the subject pronouns on one dice and verbs on another dice and tenses on the third dice.   However, having the students do a creative writing instead, allows the students to use the words and verbs in context instead of just forming the verbs out of context.    

Words on the 4 dice:
Ciudades:  Miami, Alask, Lebanon, Filadelfia, Nueva York, Nashville
Quería: un cuy, ser famoso, ir a Egipto, hablar con Taylor Swift, una banana, un monociclo morado 
Problema: no tenía dinero, tenía miedo, era cleptómano, amaba a su gato, comía todo el día, perdió sus gafas
Problema (#2): se rompió la pierna, perdió su cartera, huba una inundación, encontró un gato, un perro lo mordió, se enfermó

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Department Blog - Nothing Motivates Like Success

At times I read comments by teachers that are the only language teacher at their school, or they are the only one in their department that uses Comprehensible Input (CI) and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS).  I give a huge SHOUT-OUT to them. The French/Latin teacher at my school and I regularly discuss our ideas, our lessons, our successes, and frustrations.  We collaborate and discuss lessons throughout the day and in the evenings and weekends via texts. There are many supports available online that I also utilize, but nothing beats a colleague, in the same school setting, for on-the-spot advice and support!

In an effort to increase collaboration amoung all of the members in our department, our World Languages department started a blog in September. The blog is a way for us to share ideas without having to schedule more meeting times that suit all of us.  We have all benefited from the ideas and lessons that we share on the blog.  

Last week, one of the Spanish teachers posted on the blog, describing her lesson and materials that she made after hearing the students talk about the Super Bowl commercials.  Click HERE to find her great lesson. It was a success because she took the students' interest and then created a lesson around the vocabulary and structures they already knew, introduced a few new vocabulary words through PQA, then presented the information with CI and TPRS.

I talked with the teacher about her lesson and the pure enjoyment of being able to see language acquisition taking place in her students was evident in her enthusiasm as she talked about the lesson.   I have no doubt that success will be a solid motivation to plan additional lessons with CI/TPRS that are geared to the students. 

Susan Gross is noted for the phrase "nothing motivates like success".  Maybe she originally intended that phrase to refer to students' success, but today I had an "ah-ha" moment and I realized that it also pertains to teachers.  When teachers find success with the use of CI and TPRS, (their students begin acquiring the language due to the incredible amount of CI provided through TPRS and other CI activities), it is THAT SUCCESS that motivates them to continue to use CI and TPRS.

This happens with me on a regular basis. When I see the students successfully acquiring the language due to a lively storyasking/storytelling session, or after PQA that naturally flows for 40+ minutes, or after narrating a short film and watching how highly engaged the students are as they watch and listen, then I'm motivated to continue teaching with CI and TPRS.  That success motivates me and carries me through those other days that crop up when things don't go smoothly - when after 117 reps a student asks what the word means the next day, or when several students forget to put the "n" at the end of a verb to talk about more than one person in a timed writing.  

I also see Susan's keyed phrase "nothing motivates like success" played out with other members in my department. Our movement away from textbook-driven, grammar-intense, drill and kill instruction, didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen with everyone on-board at the same time.  It probably doesn't in other school districts either.  But as each of our members encounters success with their students' growth in their language abilities, that success motivates them to commit deeper to providing instruction with CI and TPRS, instruction that truly helps the students acquire the language, (even though throwing a worksheet at them would have been an easier, more familiar route).

Leave it to Susan Gross to coin the phrase, "Nothing motivates like success" that has several layers of meaning.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Amara - Lots of potential for MFL teachers

This morning I read a post on Twitter by @saraepperly (a retweet by @ielanguages) about Amara, a website in which you can add subtitles to videos on YouTube. 

The first thought that came to my mind was how I could use this website in my Spanish classes.  I promptly went to the website and created subtitles for the YouTube video "Vampire's Crown" that I used for a lesson last month. HERE is a video with Spanish subtitles.

For several years I have been using short film clips in my upper level classes.  In 2011 I discovered that if I limit the vocabulary while discussing or narrating the videos, they were also useful in the beginning levels.  When I search for videos, my requirements for the videos are:

1. Compelling/interesting
2. Short - preferably not more than 5 minutes
3. Little, if any, talking

The reason I don't want conversations in the video is because many of the videos I use are not Spanish videos and I don't want the students to listen to English.  

With Amara, if I find a video with audio in English, I can turn off the sound completely and insert subtitles for the students to read.  There always remains the possibility of leaving the English audio on with the Spanish subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Imagine the other ways you can use this site in your MFL classroom.  One idea I want to try in the near future is to show a video without sound that has a conversation.  The students will watch the video and then either as a class, or in small groups (the upper levels), create a dialogue in Spanish and add it into the video.  We can then view the video without sound with the subtitles in Spanish. 

I'm sure the students will be curious as to how their written dialogue compares to the original so I could either show the video again in English or post it to our class Edmodo account and they can watch it at home.  If I post it to Edmodo, an idea for an a class activity the following day, is to compare the original dialogue to the class dialogue to see if there are any similarities.

Also at the Amara website, you'll find many other videos that already have subtitles in many languages.  For example, one of the "most popular" videos with over 100,000 views is "Hans Rosling's 200 Countries...".  Click on the drop down menu to see a list of languages available with subtitles.

That's just a few ideas.  I'm sure other MFL teachers will have even better ones to share.

Happy subtitling!  (Is that a verb?) 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I could almost SEE their brains absorbing

Student sketch (before hearing storyline)
Today's class started with me meeting the first 10 students in my Spanish 2 classes outside my door with pink construction paper, black markers, and sentence strips.  The students had to sketch what was written on the sentence strip. The sentences were from a story that they were going to hear later in class, which is the first time I put that twist on the sketches.  Usually, the students hear the story and then they sketch it.  They kept the sketches at their desk until the last 10 minutes in class.  Because I gave the materials to the first 10 students to arrive to class, many of the sketches were complete and ready to be used later i n class before the starting bell rang.  

The focus words for today were: limpió, se cepilló los dientes, and le dio. I did 25 minutes+ of PQS using the focus words.  The PQ session went extremely well, and I credit that to my emphasize on going slowly, pausing, and pointing.  I am still amazed at how much quicker the students learn, when I take the time to pause and point.  As I looked directly in their eyes during PQA, I caught a glimpse of their brains processing the information.  They had such focused looks that it was if I could see the connections in their brains taking place.  "Question, pause, point, question, pause, point". 

Another advantage to not rushing through the PAQ is that I found out additional information about the students.  So much information from 3 target words.

I followed up the PQA by "reading" the book "Max va al dentista" a la "Kindergarten Day".  I told the story to them in the past tense (instead of following the words that used the present tense).  Once again, their expressions were super focused.  It almost seemed surreal.  

I distributed a printed copy of the story and we read that together and in small groups.

Finally the 10 students, that made the sketches, formed a line in the front  of the room (not in any particular order) and held their sketches for the remaining students to see.  The sketches were of things that happened in the "Max va al dentista". I collected the sentence strips, and read those sentences in Spanish.  The students said the name of the student that was hold the sketch to which I was referring.  Then I choose volunteers to order the sketches, saying a sentence for each one as they put them in the correct order.

By the end of the class period, the students looked as if they were mentally spent.  It was packed with CI and thinking back, I probably should have incorporated a few more brain breaks throughout the period. Looking back, it was nice not having to stop the flow of the instruction to have the students make the sketches, but maybe it would have been better for their brains to have that break. Live and learn, right?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Celebrity Masks

Señora Hitz asked me to blog about my success and fun times with celebrity masks last week.

Our new semester started 11 days ago and I am still riding the high that the new students have brought. I’m teaching level II French, which is new for me this year since I switched to TPRS. The last level II classes I had were last year and I taught them in the traditional style. I wanted to rip out my hair every day. So, understandably, I was excited to continue my enthusiasm for these students, 2/3 of whom had me last spring or this past fall for TPRS. 

My colleague attended Carol Gaab’s conference in Baltimore last week and emailed all of us tips and tricks he learned while there. One trick he learned (and that I had heard about before but never had the time to do) was to cut out pictures of celebrity faces and put them on popsicle sticks as masks. I gave it a go for an activity last week for French II. We were discussing the words “he wanted” and “he went” and I threw in words like “there” and “to the house of” (both very handy but difficult prepositions in French). I started off small, with just pictures of Amanda Seyfried (from Les Mis) and Channing Tatum. The kids were so excited to say that they wanted to go to Channing’s house, or that they went to Amanda’s house over the holiday break. Some wonderful student decided to throw in the phrases “he kissed her” and “she kissed him” from previous stories. 

I couldn’t believe how much play I got out of those 2 masks. I had my service learning student make me 8-10 more because who better than a teenager to know what her classmates are into? I think I have Johnny Depp (for me, of course!), Emma Watson, Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Angelina Jolie, and several others. Other classes besides the level II French are now begging to use the masks. Sometimes I hang the masks around the room so that the celebrities can “watch” the kids. This amazingly simple trick will be so worth it in your classroom.