29 December 2010

9 ways to increase students' TL use

This summer I wrote a post on increasing your own TL use and am just now getting around to this follow-up post.

Students need to practice speaking the TL in order to develop the skill of speaking it; that goes without saying. But because of the affective filter more than anything, and a host of other factors including pure lack of knowledge, it's a constant battle to get them to do so. Here are some tips that have worked in my classroom to get students speaking more.

1. Vocabulary practice.
This is a tedious task in which my students spend 5 minutes (timed) three days a week going over their vocabulary. They look at the English and say the Spanish in a low but audible voice, except in AP where they use Spanish definitions. (This is one area where I have just not been able to eradicate translation from my classroom.) The fact that no one can hear them means that they're not self-conscious, but they're training their mouths to speak the Spanish words. It's a task they hate, but it's been an incredible tool in my class for many reasons:
a) students ask how to pronounce words when they don't know how to pronounce them
b) students latch on to phrases that are their favorites and use them to joke and interact with those around them
c) students "bargain" (or think they're bargaining) with me by doing it in exchange for never doing vocabulary quizzes, which I find an entirely useless exercise in creating short-term memory for invalid grades
d) students don't mind doing it because every 6 times counts for an easy 50-point participation grade as long as they're keeping up with their own pace (they give themselves a tally mark for every 10 words they get through)
e) it gives me a chance at the beginning of class to take attendance and collect my thoughts and such without giving them useless busy work

2. Tell stories.
If you hang around "me" (my blog/twitter/etc) for long you'll soon find out that music and storytelling rival in my mind as the teacher's most powerful tools in the classroom. Storytelling is so powerful (and is as children acquire their first language) because it offers an ideal forum for incessant questioning. Which leads me to...

3. Ask questions incessantly.
I ask questions so nonstop that I do not "teach" the question words. They're in the vocabulary but we don't spend even a day on them. Questions keep students listening and offer you a continual source of formative assessment. Ask questions about stories. Ask questions about your students' lives. About school. About what you're doing in class. Everything. Someone knocks at the door. Who's at the door? Why? How tall? How old? Someone wants to go to the bathroom. TL, please. When? Where? Also, don't say a student's name until after the question. It keeps them listening to the question because they don't know whom you're calling on.

4. [Almost] never answer your own questions.
So you've asked a question and you get blank stares. Resist the temptation to answer it yourself until you've exhausted all possibilities to get students to understand. The best way is to offer options. At the lowest level, your best friends are proper nouns and cognates. Where did the girl go? La tienda--Walmart? El restaurante? If students have to answer in English, at least they comprehended the question, but give a valid TL answer and then ask them to do the same.

5. Ask a student to diagram your question & response patterns in class.
One day, give a class roster to a responsible student who's really on top of things. Ask him or her to put a check mark next to each student you call on. It will surprise you to see what the patterns are and will help you make sure you're calling on a variety of students (if you're in the habit of calling on students). Also, it's good to diagram who answers without being called on so you can see who really never talks and who really always talks, as opposed to just what our impressions are.

6. Get a stuffed animal to throw.
I love doing this and it's always been successful for me, but my colleague in her first year this year is having some resistance to it in her class. However she's having resistance to a lot of things so I'm taking that with a grain of salt. For some reason this has worked with me all the way to 12th grade because it helps control the turn-taking in the classroom to make sure everyone says something. Plus, boys just love to throw things and girls just love stuffed animals. I ask a question or give a sentence starter. I throw the animal. They answer, or if they're taking too long, I ask for it back and throw it to someone else, or they throw it to someone else. Anyway, everyone has to answer or say something relevant. It keeps the pace up, everyone looking up, and again, we don't leave anyone out.

7. Start every class with a patterned question.
This has to do with that stuffed animal thing. It doesn't have to be every class, but I love patterned questions. It helps us practice recent vocabulary, it gets the TL out of their mouth, and it gets umpteen repetitions of the target feature without rote repetition and without it being from me. So I say, "Me encanta Taco Bell porque me gustan las chalupas." (Sometimes I write it on the board with blanks.) I keep going with the pattern with my own opinions until someone asks for the stuffed animal and is willing to do it on their own. The same couple of students are always first and the same couple of students are always last, but that's okay, because everyone says something, and everyone learns at their own pace, right?

8. Make students 'pay' to speak English.
I have a stack of fake money and each student in lower levels receives 5 bills at the beginning of class. They can speak English 5 times during the class but they have to pay me a bill in order to do it. After that, they start losing academic credit (on a participation grade). So they know that they're not "forbidden" from speaking English so they're more comfortable doing both. I almost never have students lose all their bills. Students in upper levels receive 3 bills.
Incidentally, they can also receive more bills by "catching" me saying something in English that they know how to say in Spanish.

9. Vary your seating.
By this I don't mean have a seating chart and I don't mean let them sit wherever they want to. I got this tip from a professor in a TESOL program in grad school. At the beginning of the year I use 5x8 cards to make name "tents." They fold them in half, write their English name on one side and their Spanish name on the other. (Also this helps me learn their names.) My students in larger classes sit at tables, 4 to a table, for collaborative learning and scaffolding. Then every day, right before class, I take about a minute and set the names out completely at random. As the school year goes on I learn that there are a few students who cannot sit together, but generally it's random. If they don't like it one day, I tell them to suck it up because it will be different tomorrow. The principle is that they will usually be sitting at a table with someone who's better than they are and someone who's struggling more than they are, so there's always a new form of collaborative scaffolding going on. Thanks Alexandra--this is the most brilliant approach to language teaching seating I have seen!

Hope these tips help in your classroom as much as they have helped in mine.

27 December 2010

I love collaboration

Ever since someone said something about not reinventing the wheel it seems we've all been in a search to see how much of our work other people have already done. Right?

Not really. Actually we still have a tendency to shut ourselves in our classrooms and overwork ourselves and burn out doing things that hundreds or thousands of other teachers have actually done and some have shared if we just knew where to look.

I'd love for my blog to be an opportunity for me to share places to look. I just joined this wiki, Language Teachers Collaborate, and today I added a page called Authentic Audio. Click. Explore. Request access. Collaborate. It's what makes the teaching world go 'round.

24 December 2010

The problem with translation (from a student)

It doesn't take a teacher to realize that training students to translate doesn't produce proficiency. If you want to look into the SLA research behind why translation slows language processing so much (and if you are a teacher, you owe it to yourself to get this and let it revolutionize your methodology), start with this post. But for some lighter, shorter reading just look at what my student wrote for his evaluation of a listening proficiency exercise he did a couple of weeks ago.

My AP students have to interact in some way with Spanish outside of class once a week. They choose one of 19 options. It's a way for them to show me that, at this point, they have the self-motivation to find something they like to do with their Spanish outside of class (with as much freedom as I can allow and still get them to do a beneficial assignment). Then they report to me what they did, what they think they did well, and then what they need to work on. So "Teodosio" watched some videos on the internet about a theme park. He writes, "I need to work on listening instead of trying to translate. =("

Did you notice that he basically equates translating with not listening? At the very least he's revealing what all of us--and even our students--know: translating slows down language processing too much for listening comprehension to be significant. Listening comprehension reaches a significant level when the L2 word starts triggering the concept without having to route through the L1 to do so.

So why do we waste so much time asking our students to translate? Actually training them to do it?

Good question.

20 December 2010

Why music is more powerful than anything (& how to use it)

I got a question via @espanolsrs about how I "teach" songs and whether my students understand what they're singing. I thought I'd written a post about this before but when I browsed through my song label I didn't see anything about it. Probably I just thought about it and didn't actually write it (that happens a lot--I have probably 15 posts in the "edit" stage in my dashboard right now!).

It did remind me what I consider one of the greatest myths of language teaching: that students have to understand everything they hear. This is one area where I think that TPRS goes very wrong (and if you spend much time on my blog you'll know that I love TPRS). But TPRS and I part ways mostly on two very fundamental philosophical principles, one being using so much English translation, and the other being this idea that students have to understand every word they hear.

The thing that got me started on using music was an AP Spanish workshop led by a woman who handed out two songs (the songs were 19 de noviembre by Carlos Vives and Olvídame y Pega la Vuelta by Pimpinela) and asked us how these songs could be used in class. As we started brainstorming through what target features and cultural themes were present in the songs, using them piqued my interest. When I actually used them in class, and then used videos related to them, the songs themselves piqued my students' interest. The whole thing became a snowball effect that I never dreamed of. So my music journey hasn't really been something I read about or something I set out to do--it's something my students and the pop music industry have shown me, and happened to use my classroom as a venue to do it.

If you ask students all over the world what the best ways to learn English are, they will tell you that they learned the most English through watching our television shows and listening to our music. On any given Top Latino podcast, several of the songs will be in English by stars like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. Do these English language learners understand everything they hear? Of course not. I don't even understand these songs. So why are they so effective? From using Spanish pop songs in my classroom, I have several theories, and tips.

1) Music is fun & motivating. This is why the industry makes so much money off of the adolescent market. It's why teenagers walk around with earbuds in their ears. Accordingly, you should usually choose songs that are widely popular. (Sometimes I make an exception and just ask my students to forgive me if there is a feature that's just too good to pass up--and then I'll often have one or two students who absolutely love it anyway, as is the case with Alexander Acha's Te Amo. I have a student who has memorized this song.)

2) Music offers a variety to appeal to lots of students. As teachers this is often a dilemma to us, particularly if you use a textbook. Students have a wide variety of likes and dislikes in every area of their life. If we can appeal to those tastes with music from Alexander Acha to Wisin y Yandel (appropriately for class), all the better. Choose a wide variety of artists. I have to remember that not all my students like the same kind of music I do. And I encourage my students to put up with some music and then let them choose other times. Trevor needs to tolerate Estrella for Ashley, and later she'll put up with Cuando me enamoro. (Okay, so who doesn't like that song.)

3) Songs offer an excellent opportunity for chunking. This is one of the main reasons why students don't always have to understand what they're saying. Any teacher or parent knows that children (and people) memorize words that are set to music. So what happens is this: think of all those phrases in Spanish (or English) that are a verb or noun plus an odd preposition. Let me pull a few from songs my students know inside out: "estoy a punto de" + inf from Mientes by Camila; or "hace [tiempo] que"+ present tense from Hace Tiempo by Fonseca. These are the kinds of structures that we can grammatically explain like we always have, and the best students will be able to produce them in writing to pass a test but they'll move on and forget them past our class and never be able to make the connection fast enough to produce them in speaking or comprehend them in spoken Spanish. Unless--they've heard them in context so many times the brain connection is just there and always will be. That is the power of a song. We need to find these structures in songs and point them out to our students, and then give them opportunities to use them in different contexts while reminding them of their use in the song.

4) Songs are an inexpensive way for students to continue interacting with Spanish outside of class. I remember students who didn't even continue to Spanish 3 telling me, "Oh I remember that song--it's on my shower playlist." Okay, well, I'm not really interested in what's on his shower playlist, but the point is he's still interacting with Spanish outside of my classroom because something struck his fancy and he went and spent $1. (Side note: encourage your students to responsibly and legally buy their music and you do the same. I have been appalled at the Spanish teachers who have proudly told me they download music illegally.) Offer homework credit for students listening to music outside of class. In my AP class this is a "fluency credit" my students can do once a quarter (along with 18 other options; they have to do one once a week).

5) Music can spur lots of varied assignments. These are some things my students have done:
--presentation on favorite artist including interpretation of a song
--essay on musicians' social responsibility with examples
--compare and contrast of matters of faith and culture presented in songs by three different groups (I teach at a private Christian school)
--Google Earth investigation of places mentioned in songs (there's a post about this in my song label mentioned above).
--rewrite a song to make it appropriate to their culture/life (example, Ojalá que llueva café to apply to the current recession in the U.S. and the struggles specific to our city)
(Also, remember I teach advanced students exclusively now.)

6) Music helps students remember grammatical features. I have an AP student who never forgets that words that end in -dad are feminine because of the song Electricidad by Jesse y Joy.

Most of all, always have a reason for playing a song. Well, almost always. There isn't anything wrong with playing one just for fun once in a while. If you'll look through the song label you'll notice that songs frequently show a target feature you can point out or ask students to look for. At the advanced stage I teach we are often looking at vocabulary or culture issues.
Also, play them often. You never know when you'll hit on the one or two that will be the magic that Hace tiempo, La llave de mi corazón, Adiós, Electricidad, and Dímelo, Dame, and Creeré have been in my class.

15 November 2010

iPad giveaway!

Because what techy teacher couldn't use an iPad?

Here's all the info in the blog post at the Art of Random Willy-Nillyness. Good luck!

11 November 2010

A collaborative project for our Spanish-teacher PLN

This year I noticed that my AP Spanish (4th year at my school) class had a lower listening proficiency than my previous class. As I reflected on possible causes for this, I realized that since I'd moved classrooms into a room without a VCR and thus stopped moving slowly through tapes of prior years' Latin Grammy's, I had stopped doing listening cloze quizzes of Spanish-language commercials. I wondered if perhaps that could be a contributing factor. To hear the blank words, students would listen to the native Spanish in these commercials over and over and over, and so I wondered if the drop in focused native listening activities had decreased the proficiency.

I thought about how to bring this activity back and thought, of course, that these commercials must be on YouTube. As it turned out, I found almost none of the quizzes I had scripted before, but I did find many more. So, in my new spirit of open-source that my PLN has brought to my teaching life, I immediately thought, why not put the scripts and YouTube links in a Google Doc, get more teachers involved, and get us all scripting and using the quizzes together?

Let's see how many teachers and how many commercials we can get in this document. You can find the commercials I've found on my Delicious commercials tag here, and look at the cloze quizzes in the Google doc here. Comment on this post with your email, or DM me your email to @SECottrell, or shoot me an email at cottrellse @ gmail dot com and I'll add you to the list of teachers who can edit it.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we could make this a cloze quiz resource built by dozens of teachers with dozens of target-language commercials accessible by any of us at any time?

I love collaboration, in teaching and in learning.

29 October 2010

And the winner is...

This year I picked up some early childhood Spanish to free up some time for our K-8 teacher to increase his instruction in our grades 6-8. So I teach 3-year-olds through 1st grade. I get 10 minutes per week with 3-year-olds, 15 minutes with 4-year-olds, and 20 minutes with kindergarten and 1st grade.

The first reaction I get from language teachers at this is laughter. What can you do in 15 minutes per week? Nothing.

I laugh back. Not nothing. Something big, or so I have found. It's not earth-shattering, but it's a breakthrough for me.

A little more background--the private school where I teach is connected to a church with a very strong emphasis on adoption, and we have a lot of internationally adopted
students in our school. This year in my younger classes I have, for example, two four-year-old Russians and a 1st-grader also from Russia. I had a few questions at the beginning of the year, people asking me if I thought them taking Spanish would hinder their English acquisition. I told them, bah, absolutely not. Bring on the languages, right?

All--and I mean 100%--of my training is in secondary education. So I started this blind. I knew it needed to be immersion. I knew it needed to include stories and questions. Songs. I knew last year they learned a few words of vocabulary and did a color sheet and I knew that wasn't the route I wanted to take. But the format? Clueless. After my first day in preschool I sent a shout-out for help to @PreKlanguages who called me and gave me a 30-minute crash course in teaching preschool Spanish.

So, we're building a story. There's a red house on a green hill. The yellow chick lives in the red house (Los pollitos dicen pío pío pío). One day he takes a walk and finds a blue lake. He drinks the water. He sees his friend the brown frog. The brown frog jumps 10 times and sings "Cucú." And so on. It's crazy fun.

For 10 weeks I've been asking, ¿Quién vive en la casa? Providing options. Superman? No. ¿Tú? No. Your teacher (name)? No. ¡El pollito vive en la casa! Waiting for someone to answer. So far, nothing. Which doesn't bother me, it's natural acquisition and you just wait for it to take its course.

Until yesterday. I'm in one of my four-year-old classes and telling the story. Here's the red house. ¿Quién vive en la casa?

And there it is. One of the little boys pipes up in all seriousness, "Pollito." Like "pozhito" with a rasp on the ll and all. I jumped up and high-fived him and nearly went through the roof.

And the winner is...

One of the Russian adopted boys.

Oh and today? In a three-year-old class I asked, ¿De qué color es la casa? And a little girl answers,


She flipped the vowel to feminine. They have never done that before.

That's what 15 minutes a week can give you.

01 October 2010

In the spirit of open source: Ciudad de las bestias

Want to guide your advanced students through a culturally-relevant novel by a Hispanic author, written specifically to adolescents? Good! Intensive reading for pleasure is the best way to acquire vocabulary in any language.

I've put an incredible amount of work into writing reading guides and vocabulary lists for all 20 chapters of Ciudad de las bestias by Isabel Allende.

In the story, Alex, a 15-year-old Californian, must spend some time with his eccentric grandmother while his mother receives cancer treatment in Texas. His grandmother is a nonfiction adventure writer, about to leave with a team from "International Geographic" for the Amazon, in search of the (mythical?) Bestia--the 'abominable jungleman.' Alex's presence can't throw a wrench in her plans so he must tag along. Suddenly the California boy finds himself in the middle of the Amazon, picking off leeches, swimming with dolphins, befriending a young Brasilian-Canadian girl with whom he gets kidnapped and must embark on a journey to answer tough questions about who gets to use what in the jungle and what the future holds for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, as well as where his true riches are and where he can find purpose.

Sound like culture? communication? motivating subject matter for teenagers?

My reading guides aren't perfect--just the other day one of my students pointed out I hadn't put page numbers on a few questions-- but here they are, and I encourage you to see the power of reading come alive for your advanced students.

**UPDATE 3 FEB 2011** For new info on these guides, see this post.

I'll try to post some tips on class novel reading soon, but my first one would be to start reading together before assigning it outside of class, so students can get used to the big keys which are:
1-read the question first so you know the big idea you're looking for
2-read so you understand the gist, but not so you understand every word.

23 September 2010

Books recommended as 'easy'

I found a helpful post on Amazon.com where someone recommends easy novels to read while learning Spanish. I hope to order them and see whether they might be good for Spanish 2, since I'm all about feeding kids authentic rather than learner Spanish from the beginning.

One is La Tierra del Fuego, and the other is El Clan de la Loba/La Guerra de las Brujas.

For Bethanie, who asked a long time ago, and anyone else who cares.

Here are a couple of other options recommended to me via Twitter and Amazon:
A children's sensation in Spain, Manolito Gafotas (if you can find enough copies en español)
The last of the Manolito series, Manolito Tiene un Secreto
Adventure novel Limpieza de sangre
El pirata Garrapata (and sequels)

Pure present tense & at least 22 repetitions of 'ya no'

This is an old song by Juanes but great for 'ya no'- a phrase used so frequently that doesn't have a good matchup as far as syntax with English. You could say "no longer" but we typically have the 'not' paired with do/does + 'anymore' after the main verb... yuck. 'Ya no' is much more user-friendly. ;-)

The YouTube video actually shows an execution by electric chair so it's a bit rough in that way.

18 September 2010

For a conference attendee: resources in math

Someone at my session asked for resources for math in Spanish. I promised I'd try to post some.

Look here for a list I found.

Also I forgot that I had this resource, education tools from the Department of Education in Venezuela.

Searching BBC Mundo

I promised to add some information as I stumbled through searching on BBC Mundo during my presentation Prompts with Power. As it turns out, I was thinking of the Radio ONU website--theirs is easily searchable and programs are scripted.

To search BBC Mundo for print sources, go to Google, and on the right, click 'advanced search.' On the part that says "only search this site," type bbcmundo.com. Then type your term in the top and click 'search.'

For video and audio, on the bbcmundo.com site, type your search term in Spanish at the top. I typed "ambiente" as mine. Hit enter. On the right you'll see the first 3 video/audio results. Click "more audio/video results" and look through to see what you want. On the 2nd page of my results there was one about the chestnuts in the Amazon, a nice idea to include.

17 September 2010

Prompts with Power: writing/speaking prompts

These are the sample prompts we are doing in my presentation, Prompts with Power, with sources.

Unit theme: Interpersonal relationships
Prompt theme: Adamari Lopez and Luis Fonsi divorce

Target "should"
She is sick.
He "should..."
Extend: why?

Target: talking about the past
Compare their relationship to a time when an illness affected your relationships.

Target: Perfects, subjunctive
What has happened to their relationship?
Extended: How do you feel about Luis Fonsi now?

Target: None specific.
Write an essay for your Marriage and Family class on the following topic: How does stress affect relationships? Give a personal example. How do you think famous couples could deal with the stress of fame and separation to make their relationships last? What about when an illness adds to the challenges?

Potential audio sources:
Adamari Lopez no se dio por vencida
Confirman Luis Fonsi y Adamari Lopez su separacion

Print sources:
Luis Fonsi: "Miento si digo que estoy bien"
Siguen cuidando uno del otro

Prompts with Power: Prezi

Here's the Prezi for Prompts with Power.

15 September 2010

Prompts with Power: German & French resources

These are the promised German and French resources from my presentation, "Prompts with Power."


Radio on demand

Morganpost TV on YouTube
More radio on dradio

For both French and German, a print source I mentioned a few posts back, Ads of the World.
Also change your Google settings to show pages in German/French as well as English, and use news.google.com to find online news.
Surf thousands of online newspapers to find newspapers from Germany, France, China, Liechtenstein, Congo, you get the idea.

For French audio:
ARTE radio
RFI radio
Radio France
BFM radio
France 24's YouTube channel

Prompts with Power: Dating in high school

This is a writing or speaking prompt I'm making available as a follow-up to my upcoming presentation called "Prompts with Power." Prezi coming soon.

The prompt is:
¿Deben los jóvenes salir con novios en el colegio?

My favorite audio source for this (you have to watch both to get the full drama):

And the print source is an article from EPA.

Another possible audio source (but I didn't want them both to be about pregnancy, etc. and the Patito Feo is a good glimpse of the manipulation that can come from immature relationships):

KWLA Presentation: PLN-ology

Here's my Prezi for the three-hour workshop @jannachiang and I are doing at the annual fall conference of the Kentucky World Language Association, this weekend in Lexington. The title is "PLN-ology" and the topic is how to use online tools, specifically Twitter, the eduPLN on NING, and Delicious social bookmarking, to enhance professional development (and for fun too!)

14 September 2010

Tweet with double objects

This tweet from @Fonseca came through just now--why not use it to see how your students do with the double objects?

Plus his use of 'q' and 'super' are fun.

"En Bogota hay un restaurante q se llama "EL COMEDOR", se los super recomiendo! Buenisimo!"

31 August 2010

Interactive comic creator using Maya & Miguel

The Pbs Kids website's Maya & Miguel section not only has a nice selection of Spanish fun, but one of the features is an interactive comic creator, in which you select the background and then choose which words you want to use and which pictures match the words.  Wait-- it's in Spanish, you choose the words, and then you choose the pictures that match the words? Does that sound like some seriously fun vocab acquisition and practice or what?  I don't care if your students are nine years old or in ninth grade, you've got to try this out.

30 August 2010

Ads of the World | Creative Advertising Archive & Community

I'm always on the lookout for authentic print and audio sources. I'm convinced that we should be feeding our students authentic audio and print from the very beginning. I think there's something they can understand in just about anything. (My 1st graders today were "reading" the cuentos on Playhouse Disney Latino's website.) I think if we continually feed them learner language that's all they'll ever understand.

For simple, attention-grabbing language, you can't get any better than advertisements. Check out Ads of the World for a great resource of advertisements in target language from all over the world. (Careful, be sure to screen them first.)

15 August 2010

Added some great new links

I've tweaked some of my links on the right - added a couple of "communicative bloggers" and some "communicative tools" including a FANTASTIC YouTube channel for anyone who's raising bilingual kids or teaches Spanish to children. I also finally replaced the old Yahoo radio link with a new link to my Pandora station, so you can listen to the station I use to find almost all the pop music I use in my classroom.

There's so much great stuff out there. :)

12 August 2010

First 14 days of Spanish 1

A couple of posts down Jen asked if I had lessons to go along with the Spanish 1 scope and sequence and vocabulary list.

I do! A few, anyway, and at least you can see how I organize and move through Musicuentos. Here are the first 14 days of Spanish 1, in fairly good detail.


My supply list

I just made my supply list for this year. It's been whittled down a lot this year. The actual one has a clip-art face on it but I don't think that uploaded well to Google Docs.


(Disclaimer: I should add that I teach advanced electives at a private school that doesn't have the faculty or facilities to accept students with special needs, so no offense is intended. Also, I personally know every student on my class rosters so I know they won't be offended.)

07 August 2010

Scope & sequence, word list for Spanish 1

About three years ago I finally obeyed the inner voice that was yelling at me that textbooks were terribly unmotivating and out-of-date as soon as they were printed and we closed our textbooks forever and haven't looked back, in Spanish 1 through 3 anyway (we do use a workbook some in AP to get students used to the format of the AP exam).

(Side note: for a good blog post on throwing out your textbooks by Shelly Blake-Plock a.k.a. @teachpaperless, look here.)

As Shelly mentions, one thing textbooks do for us as teachers is give us structure. We do have to have structure, after all. At my school we just hired a new Spanish 1 & 2 teacher (and by new I mean it's her first year teaching as well) and for the past several weeks I've been working on organizing and updating the Spanish 1 and 2 scope & sequence and word lists for her. One thing I've been doing is using Mark Davies' amazing Corpus del Español to edit verb forms for higher frequency (look here for a good explanation by Michel Baker on how to use the Corpus), as well as checking to be sure we have the most frequent words in the lists.

And as I'm a firm believer in sharing the work we do, here are the documents for Spanish 1.
Word list (sorry all the dates are from 2008)
Scope and sequence ("extended" in the spring is because our spring quarters are technically 10 weeks long)
Feel free to "steal" and use whatever you can. As you read, keep in mind I teach in a private Christian school in a textbookless, translation-less, technology-based, storytelling classroom full of pop music and communicative, performance-based assessments.

Spanish 2 coming soon.

29 July 2010

5 tips for increasing (your own) target language use

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in May passed a new policy statement on the use of the target language in the classroom - 90% or above at all levels. It's about time that we as language teachers realize that 1) language education in the US doesn't work because we don't speak it to them and 2) speaking target language doesn't have to mean the students don't understand (it's how we acquired it the first time around, ¿no?).

Here are five tips to help you increase your use of the TL in the classroom.

1- Ask, ask, ask.
Get into the habit of asking short questions continually. I don't ever actually teach question words. It's in their vocab, but we spend 0 instruction or practice time on it because we just do it so much. Who are you sitting with? Who's at the door? What's in your backpack? When's lunch? Why are you leaving? What color is that? Where's your sister?

2- offer an immediate (false) answer to your question
Don't translate yourself and don't give anyone a chance to translate for someone who didn't hear or wasn't listening or never listens because the smart guy next to him always translates. Offering an immediate false answer gives students immediate context to target comprehension and increase concept ties, which are much stronger than L1-L2 ties (see my presentation here and it's worth your time to read this book chapter).
So, where did your Mom go? Walmart? Disney World? Where? Where did she go? Who's at the door? Lady Gaga? President Obama? Who? Who's there?

3- start describing drawings
I incorporate a lot of stories into my teaching and so I draw a lot. I am not an artist by any means, and that just makes it more fun. My students know I draw the worst-looking horses. Instead of just talking about something, try drawing through it. How about for an introductory activity one day, take your recent vocabulary and describe a drawing that your students have to draw. Use colors, sizes, and location words. "The sun is green and it's far away from the small blue banana." Take it for a listening comprehension grade. Drawing is my favorite version of vocab quizzing. Beats translation any day.

4- come up with an "I don't understand" sign
We often switch into English because we think our students may not understand. Another thing I took from TPRS is the "X" symbol for when students don't understand. That way, I know and can repeat, draw, act, rework my phrases to help them understand, and all the while I'm feeding them more TL. Timid students don't mind doing a little X with their index fingers. Then I've had rambunctious boys do a full-table X (my students sit 4 to a table sideways to me for communicative/scaffolding purposes) where each boy put an arm to the center and this was a "this entire table is completely lost here" X. LOL.

5- offer students a reward for "catching" you saying something in English they know in TL
Sometimes you'll find the right students motivated by the right things (chocolate) who will help you police yourself. I offered students a bean every time they caught me saying something in English that they knew in Spanish - even a word - and 2 beans earned them a Snickers Mini.

Get talking. Use strategies to continually assess comprehension and TALK TALK TALK! :)l

15 July 2010

A warm-up from @samocamila: por vs. para

A tweet from @samocamila, he's just full of fun stuff these days:
A todos los fans les mando un besote!!!, tengo mucha emoción por cantar para ustedes esta noche en premios juventud, los amo!.

Úsalo para practicar la diferencia entre por y para, y no te pierdas la oportunidad de enfocarse a los estudiantes en esa palabrita muy chévere 'besote'. :-)

13 July 2010

Camila's all on board! (well, on Twitter)

In the post just below I mentioned that the guitarist Pablo and the vocalist/pianist Mario @dragondomm are on Twitter, as well as the official Twitter feed @CamilaMX. Today @pablocamila retweeted a YouTube video that Samo put up and so I learned that he has one as well- @samocamila.

¡Síguelos todos!

10 July 2010

Getting vocabulary from a tweet

You never know what you're going to pick up from following tweets from pop culture icons like @jesseyjoy or @juanes, or from news sources like Venezuela's version of Fox News @globovision or Honduran @diariolaprensa. A great tweet came through today as an example.

One of my favorite groups, the Mexican trio Camila, tweets mainly through two accounts, @pablocamila (the guitarist) and CamilaMX, the official twitter. Mario Domm has an account @dragondomm but he doesn't tweet terribly frequently.

Today this tweet came from @pablocamila:
Quién irá a ganar este partido? Cuál fue la predicción de mi tocayo el pulpo?

In less than 140 characters, you have the vocabulary word 'tocayo' (I don't know when I acquired that word but it's a fun one to have), future for the concept of "I wonder" (extra interesting in the ir + a construction), cuál instead of qué as the question word, and the whole phenomenon of this prognosticating octopus Pulpo Pablo, which is frankly, just flat weird, but hey--by the time you watch videos and read articles about him choosing Spain to win it all (as of this writing the game is tomorrow, so we'll see if he's right), and why not throw in some video of Spain searching for their own Pulpo Paul, not to mention the wealth of hilarious stuff there is to find out there about Argentinian chefs putting octopus paella on the menu ad nauseum, your students will never forget the word for octopus and get some really funny culture mixed in their language acquisition in the process.

Every Spanish teacher should be on Twitter. Start by following me, @secottrell, and looking at my lists of language teachers and music, and follow them. From there it's a yellow brick road.

26 April 2010

Huge toy giveaway from SpanglishBaby

Here's a shoutout to SpanglishBaby--run over there and be sure to enter their awesome giveaway of bilingual toys from Ingenio!

Oh, and don't forget to follow them on Twitter, @Spanglishbaby.

13 April 2010

A case for avoiding "pet" grammar

My baby's been occupying a whole lot of my time lately, draining the life from my blogging and twittering, but in the grand scheme of priorities, she's above my blog, sorry. ;-)  But now that potty training is going more smoothly I'll make a concerted effort to get back into things.

Way too long ago I saw a few tweets from some Twitter friends, also Spanish teachers, retweeting and agreeing with this post about how students in U.S. Spanish classes should learn the vosotros.  It caused a twinge of guilt in me, I'll admit, because I don't teach the vosotros.  We call it "that y'all -ais isteis ending they use in Spain" every once in a while when it comes up in conversation, but I don't explicitly teach it, not even in AP Spanish. Why? Because I like to think I'm on a mission to get my students communicative in the comparatively tiny amount of time I have, and vosotros isn't part of it.  But what if they're right? What if I'm cheating them out of something, just because never in my Spanish-speaking 20 years have I ever used or needed the vosotros form?  So, I thought, I'll ask.  I do have one student in my six years of teaching who did study abroad in Spain. Also, my colleague who teaches lower-level Spanish with me studied abroad in Spain.  I'll ask them.  My colleague told me that she thought it's a good idea to introduce it so they can recognize it when they see it, but other than that it's more or less a waste of time.  As for my former student, here's what she told me via facebook message:
"Having spent time in Spain I think I would still agree with you that spending a lot of time teaching vosotros isn't really needed. I think as long as you told your students what it is and maybe went over some of the verbs like ir, comer, and hablar to give them an idea of how it works. I think the best explanation of it is to tell them it is the form the Spaniards use for y'all."

Whew, mental forehead wipe.  So the two people I know who might have told me I'd been cheating my students reassured me that as long as they know what it is, it's not a big deal if they can't really use it.

What makes me think this even more is the Latin American use of vos.  I had friends in Texas who regularly used the preterite conjugation of vosotros with me as a conjugation of vos, which isn't taught in any textbook.  What about that?

This got me thinking more about pet grammar and about my own shortcomings.  How much time do we as teachers spend teaching stuff that's just uncommunicative junk that doesn't matter?  Take me, for instance.  Would you believe that at the beginning of this year I actually spend a few days and a good part of a test teaching and evaluating the presence or absence of the definite article before a qualified or unqualified profession word? I mean, come on! (If you're as lost as you should be, what I mean is, 'él es abogado' vs. 'él es un buen abogado'.)  Where in the grand scheme of communicative language teaching did I need to waste time on that?

Another example: I distinctly remember having to memorize in college a list of the country words in Spanish and which ones typically did or did not take the definite article.  I remember memorizing that you have to use la Argentina instead of just Argentina.  Fast forward to now when I regularly read news articles in Spanish on website and see en Argentina, de Argentina, desde Argentina. Wait, where, what? Why did I memorize that again?

Let me hit a little closer to home--verb conjugations.  Oh how we love to drill them, practice them, mark them wrong, am I right?  A few weeks ago Laura Pausini put on her twitter feed @officialpausini that she wanted people to donate to Haiti or Chile earthquake relief, can't remember which, and "yo también lo hizo." ¿Hizo? Sure, you say, but Laura is actually Italian.  But she speaks Spanish quite fluently and makes more money singing in Spanish than in Italian.

But let's talk native Spanish speakers.  My students and I were doing some class activities regarding the wave of violence in Ciudad Juárez and watched some videos, including one showing a protest sign that read "Señor Presidente, hasta que encuentremos el culpable..." What a minor detail, that stem change that shouldn't be there in an -ar subjunctive, but I remember how much we studied those little details.

Pet grammar.  If it's your goal, fine, but I'd argue that's when you're really cheating your students--cheating them of the opportunity to be communicative.  Grammatical accuracy comes with a whole lot of time and comprehensible input, and in the meantime, why not just have fun with communication?  My most communicative students are the ones whose verb accuracy is all over the place, but their affective filters are low and they're willing to experiment and have fun and just lay it out there and try it and negotiate meaning.  One of them just won first place in level 4 oral proficiency at the district language festival and I can assure you my college Spanish professor would be appalled at her verb accuracy.  But when she goes to a restaurant and tries her best to chat about whatever she can think of, I can assure you the people there couldn't care less.

03 April 2010

Authentic audio with future tense

I found a recent broadcast from Radio ONU (incidentally a great source for AP Spanish audio) that uses several verbs in the future tense because it's about a future meeting of a group discussing what they want to do about the H1N1 virus.  Current event + grammar = :o)

My favorite thing to do with these is to print the script (which is what the link will take you to), black out the target features (whether verbs or vocabulary or whatever) and copy the script, and then play the audio several times and use it as a type of cloze quiz.  I combined this with a few other future activities (a song and 2 news articles) so they were finding a total of 22 verbs, but 2 of the verbs in this audio (reunir and evaluar) they're not terribly familiar with, so I made the quiz grade worth 20 pts.  The highest grade I got was 20/20, and I only got 1 of those out of 13 students.  My lowest was 17/20, just to give you an idea.

30 March 2010

Interesting blog post about iPod as language lab

I got a link to this blog post over my Twitter feed from @techforschools and had to share.  It's called "iPod Touch as Language Lab."

A couple of years ago I saw a language lab rep at a conference and of course got all in a tizzy about language labs.  He hasn't visited my school yet but I talked to my admins about having him in and I got an estimate - $27,000 for 14 stations.  I was basically told to keep dreaming, but that was fine; I at least wanted them to know I wanted one in case someone designated a large gift to the school for foreign language (I teach at a private school).

Then I started thinking about how I could turn our laptop computer lab into a listening lab with microphones and software.  But we have computer classes in there in the afternoon, and I can't take my classes there, which is a significant obstacle.  Then we thought, well, what we really need is a mobile laptop lab, but because of our elevator/stairs situation, it would only be usable by part of our school.  Not a great option either.

So now I'm nearly sold on the idea of having a set of iPods to use as sort of a mobile computer lab.  I've decided I need to be really crazy about an idea and know enough about it to conduct training on it to really get serious about asking to allocate funds for it, but the more posts I see like this, the more crazy I become.

It's a good sort of loca though.

29 March 2010

News article: appeal + subjunctive for influence

Popping in quickly to share an article with a lot of youth appeal (I mean, it has juventud in the article) and some subjunctive for influence.

You'll find it here on univision.com.

28 January 2010

A high-interest exercise for imperfect/pasado continuo

In my class, my students know that I don't care if they know what imperfect or preterite means. Often we call them descriptive past and sudden past, because that's the best way in my opinion to contrast them.  The trick with putting them together is to get students to use one when they're describing ongoing action and switch to the other when they want to say what happened.  We do a story, where they fill in the details, in which our two characters were going somewhere (a birthday party for the horse's mother) in some way (on an airplane) doing something (eating chocolate straws) with someone else doing something (Miley Cyrus not wearing enough clothing) when something happens (the plane fell) and while that was happening other things happened (the people screamed, the horse pushed Miley Cyrus out of the plane).

I thought about using children's books as a follow-up exercise, having them describe what was happening on the page.  I did that very quickly at the end of a class, as an oral activity, and I pushed them to make the exercise very rapid so they didn't have time to get bored, but I thought, if I do this again they're going to get bored with it as a writing exercise.  But it's almost March Madness.  We live in KY where basketball is king. I have 2 girls who will probably have a volleyball scholarship in college.  I've been hyping up the upcoming World Cup. What if I find amazing sports videos, culturally relevant, in Spanish, to use instead?

So these are what we found.  Manu Ginobli, the most accomplished Latin American basketball player ever, beats Serbia & Montenegro at the buzzer in the 2004 Olympics (make sure your students watch the clock & the score box).  The USA scores on a fabulous corner kick in a World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico. Peru's volleyball team makes an amazing play in their bid for a spot in the 2010 World Championship games in Japan after their star actually kicks the ball--I didn't even know that was legal.

We watched the videos through, used sudden past to say what happened in the big moment of the game, and then paused the video in different areas.  We named some random person on the screen, and each student had to use the continuous past (our focus of the week) to say qué estaba haciendo esa persona. We did this 3 or 4 times for each video and I took the writing as a daily grade. It worked beautifully.  My students could have watched the videos a dozen times so they didn't even care that they were technically doing a grammar writing exercise.

Here are the videos:

19 January 2010

A song with 17 verbs in past subjunctive

Past subjunctive is not the easiest thing to find in a song, much less several repetitions of it.  I blogged a bit about a couple of songs that do it, but I this song just crossed my radar and wow, what a gem for past subjunctive.  It has 17 verbs in the past subjunctive, 8 of them unique.  They're almost all part of unreal if clauses, and the cool thing is that you can see the use of the concept without the actual word 'if,' something that's not taught in textbooks. (Again, textbooks fail us.)

As an added benefit, you have 'quiera' as  subjunctive by reason of indefinite antecedent (for a better song for that, see this post).  Thanks Carlos Vives (@carlosylaprovin on Twitter) for injecting some fun in one of the hardest concepts in the Spanish language.

Como Tú
Carlos Vives

Tú no sabes lo que diera
si me vieras y dijeras tú,
que no sabes que yo quiero
que mi vida la quisieras tú,
si supieras que me gustan
son las cosas que prefieres tú,
que quisiera que los hijos
que tengamos fueran como tú.

Como tú, la primavera.
Como tú, la vez primera.
No haya nadie que me quiera.
Como tú, mi vida entera.

Tú, tú, tú, mi vida entera.
Tú, tú, tú, mi vida entera.

Me perdonas si yo insisto,
que mi vida la quisieras tú.
Que de todas las estrellas
que yo he visto, la más linda, tú.
Si supieras que me gustan
son las cosas que prefieres tú.
Que quisiera que los hijos
que tengamos fueran como tú.

(coro otra vez)

Si las noticias fueran como tú.
Y las ciudades fueran como tú.
Y si las calles fueran como tú.
Y si mi jefe fuera como tú.
Y si mi vida fuera como tú.
Y mis canciones fueran como tú.
Y si la guerra fuera como tú,
No habría problema todos como tú

(coro y tag otra vez)

18 January 2010

My corporate Spanish links, all in one place

I just tagged on my Delicious all the Spanish-language corporate websites that I've mentioned on my blog.  It makes it a lot more convenient to find the sites that my students have found interesting.  You can find it here:


11 January 2010

"Adora la Exploradora"-the week we didn't feel like a boring past-tense review

Last week it was time to start reviewing how the two past tenses work together, and I just didn't feel like the usual diagrams, writing exercises, prompted conversations, etc.  So now that we have our Flip cameras, I told the students to write a movie script.  They had to use both past tenses, and they had to use every subject at least once.  We have a student whose name in my class is Adora, and they had the idea to make "Adora la exploradora." They started making this student Backpack, that student Grandma, and the ideas kept flying.  I think it turned out super fun.  We're going to be filming today and tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it!  I wish I could post the video, but I don't post pictures or video of my students on public websites.

After the first day, the video was planned all in Spanish.  Also, two separate classes did the planning and will be filming the same way.  In Word the diacritical marks were all there and correct, but they didn't copy/paste here.



Narrador: Adora y Boots salieron de su casa, porque ellos querían ir a la casa de los abuelos de Adora y comer galletas. Antes de que salieran, buscaron al Mapa.

Adora y Boots: Hola Mapa!

Mapa: Soy el Mapa (10x)Bosque, puente, montaña, casa de abuelos. Díganlo conmigo. Bosque, puente, montaña, casa de abuelos. (2x)

Narrador: Adora y Boots lo dijeron.

Narrador: Cuando salieron de la casa, caminaron al bosque espantoso y entonces llegaron. Adora vio a Swiper! ¡Ay de nosotros!

Swiper(salta del bosque):

Adora y Boots: ¡Swiper no robes! ¡Swiper no robes!

Narrador: Pero Swiper le robó la chamarra a Boots.

Swiper: Demasiado tarde. JAJAJA.

Adora y Boots: ¡Ay de nosotros!

Narrador: La buscaron y no la encontraron. Así que corrieron al puente. Adora y Boots llegaron al puente y el trol les cerró el paso. y No pudieron pasar.

Adora y Boots: ¡Por favor! ¡Necesitamos pasar e ir a la casa de mis abuelos ahorita o las galletas estarán frías! ¡Trajimos la ardilla, Tico, en nuestra mochila para ayudar a comer las galletas!

Trol: No quiero que ustedes pasen, pero si resuelven la adivinanza pueden pasar. Este es la adivinanza: -Tengo frío y calor y no frío sin calor.-

Adora y Boots: Hmmmmmm.

Tico: ¡Yo sé! ¡Yo sé!

Adora y Boots: ¿Qué?

Tico: ¡Sartén!

Trol: Respondiste correctamente. Tristemente… Tristemente… Tuve hambre.

Adora y Boots: Eres muy inteligente, Tico. Te amamos.

Tico: No los amo. Lo siento.

Adora y Boots: ¡Grrrrr! ¡Sal! Pero gracias para la solución. Adiós.

Narrador: Adora y Boots caminaron sobre el puente muy rápido y subieron la Montaña Vegas donde se dieron con el toro.

Adora y Boots: ¡Hola Benny!

Benny: ¡Hola Adora! ¡Hola Boots! Estoy comiendo mi almuerzo. Me alegra verlos porque no los veo hace mucho tiempo.

Adora: Tenemos un problema. Necesitamos buscar a Swiper porque le robó la chamarra de Boots.

Boots: Estoy muy triste. Quiero mi chamarra. Mi amigo Tico me la dio para mi cumpleaños pasado. Es mi favorita.

Adora: ¿Has visto a Swiper o la chamarra de Boots?

Benny: Yo sé dónde está la chamarra.

Boots: ¿DÓNDE ESTA? Yo la quiero.

Benny: Swiper la tiró en el árbol. Porque la chamarra no le quedaba muy bien.

Boots y Adora: ¿Dónde está el árbol?

Benny: Pregúntenle al mapa.

Mochila: Yo lo tengo.

Mapa: ¡Aquí estoy!

Adora y Boots: Mapa, ¿Dónde está el árbol?

Mapa: Allí (Señala con el dedo)

Narrador: Adora y Boots se apresuraron al árbol y consiguieron la chamarra. Entonces, Adora y Boots fueron a la casa de abuelos.

Los Abuelos y Diego: ¡Adora y Boots! ¡Nos hicieron falta!

Adora y Boots: ¡Hola! ¿Como han estado?

Los Abuelos: Muy bien y muy cansado pero hicimos galletas para Uds.

Diego: ¿Qué de yo?

Los Abuelos: Ok. (a Adora y Boots)Compartan con Diego.

Adora y Boots y Diego: ¡Ñum Ñum Ñum DELICIOSAS!

Adora y Boots: (a audiencia) ¡Gracias por ayudarnos! ¡ADIOS!

EL FIN!!!!!!!!

07 January 2010

My level 1 and 2 stories (for Bethanie, and whomever else)

A little while ago I made a post about pleasure reading that elicited a few comments from Bethanie:
Bethanie said...

Could you elaborate on what you do with the reading guides/palabras claves? I would like to incorporate more long reading into my classes in addition to the shorter pieces I already use, but struggle with some of the same things you mentioned.

Also, if you could select books for levels 1 and 2, what would you pick?


Sarita said...

Hi Bethanie! Now I just hand the students the guides/palabras claves and they turn them in on the due date. A couple of tips that are important, I think, are 1) to reduce frustration, read together at first to teach them how to find the important things without looking up every word (make sure you understand subject/verb, leave the sentence as soon as you have the gist of it, leave the paragraph as soon as you have the gist, understand every part of a sentence when you know the answer to a ? is there); 2) give them the page numbers of the answers to the questions and make sure they're chronological; 3) give a list of high-frequency words from the chapter that they're not likely to know; and 4) rehash the chapter in a TPRS/circling way when they turn in the guide to gauge who understood what.
As for books for lower levels, have you seen the TPRS books by Blaine Ray et al? You can start here. Good luck!

Bethanie said...

Hi Sarita,
Thanks for your response. I have a few of the Blaine Ray novels, and I think they are a great idea to consider. I find teaching this type of reading to be a greater challenge at the lower levels (1-2) than at the upper levels (3+), so I appreciate the ideas that you've shared.

When I first started giving my students stories with comprehension questions as assessment, I remember wishing there were more available for free on the internet, especially for lower-level students. I'm still not aware of anyone publishing or offering such stories on the internet, but at least I'd like to offer mine to Bethanie and anyone else who wants to use them. A few notes about them:
1-I believe that students pay more attention with a lower affective filter (and therefore acquire more) if the stories are interesting, funny, weird, or all of the above.
2-Long stories are frustrating so none is longer than 1 page.
3-Sorry for any mistakes/misprints. Feel free to make them your own.
4-They deliberately use vocabulary my students learned in that particular quarter. You may want to replace words to match your students' vocabulary.
5-The stories that are one page long with questions on the other page, I scored as tests.
6-There are a couple of stories I wrote for them to answer questions on (quiz grade) and then they filled in blanks with different details to make the story their own (daily grade) and exchanged with another student(s) who answered the questions based on the new story (quiz grade).

Level 1 stories
Level 2 stories

Hope you find them useful!