We are now about half way through the unit and we revisited our EQs. Students had a better idea, but still struggled to come up with answers. We began the unit looking at the relationship between wolves and the other animals in Yellowstone through a short video called How Wolves Change Rivers.
Essential questions are a part of planning every unit, but up until this point they have really been for my benefit. They helped guide my activities and assessments and gave me a direction. But essential questions (EQ) aren’t just for me. My students need to know the essential questions so they know where we are headed and on what to focus their energy. So when we started our unit on animals, I put the EQs on post-it paper in the front of the class: How are all living things connected? Why are all living things important? I asked the students to brainstorm some ideas in Spanish and they couldn’t come up with anything – a sign I have a good EQ. What would be the point of an EQ that students can answer before the unit even begins??
We are now about half way through the unit and we revisited our EQs. Students had a better idea, but still struggled to come up with answers. We began the unit looking at the relationship between wolves and the other animals in Yellowstone through a short video called How Wolves Change Rivers.
If you’ve ever taught elementary school, you know the kids are squirrely. They can’t sit for more than 10 minutes or so before needing to stand up and move. This is great for language teachers as we often want our students moving around the room and interacting. There are times, however, that we need students to focus on an interpretive task or work on a presentational activity.
After reading about primacy and recency, I realized this was a great way to plan my lessons. Even with a 30 minute period, students could only focus on a task for about 10 minutes before needing a change. Enter the brain break.
Not only do brain breaks give students a chance to rest and recharge their brains, but also it is a way for me to incorporate cultural songs and ideas and to review previous lessons. Here are a few of my favorites:
This is a popular one with students as they get to talk (and think about) chocolate. It has a simple rhythm and simple hand gestures, but it gives them a chance to interact with a friend during class.
Choco choco la la
Choco choco te te
Choco Choco la te
This is a new find and the students love it! Again, simple words and gestures make it easy to introduce and do during class and it’s just fun! (The action starts about 2 minutes in.)
Palo, palo, palo
Eh, eh, eh
Everyone loves a good hand game and this one is no different! There are three parts to this, the second being quite long. While there is not a lot to the game, I love that the students learn the words associated with the different actions. As they move their hands, they have to say the words. For now, I only have them do part A, but as they get better I may add in part B and the finale. (Start video 1 min in.)
This is a game we used to play as part of the color unit, but our color unit has been absorbed in other places (thankfully). Kids simply listen for the color (busca algo rojo) and walk around the room to find it. There are three rules: no running, no talking, and no touching other people. It’s a quick and simple way to get them moving and spot check for if they remember their colors. If you want to change it up, have them look for objects or letters.
Body Rock, Paper, Scissors
This is your typical rock, paper, scissors game, except that students use their entire bodies to form each object. Before playing, I go over each word and each movement with the students. We practice them in different orders and then in order. When they are ready to play, students close their eyes and say: “roca, papel, tijeras, ¡ya!”. On ya they pick a movement and open their eyes. You can teach phrases like “I win” or “rock beats scissors” as an added bonus.
Another great way to review vocabulary is with statue. I name an object and students freeze in a way that demonstrates that word. Sometimes, I throw in feelings or adjectives as well.
When introducing the brain break, it can take a few extra minutes out of class, but once students know the song or game, all they require is the title of the activity to get going. It is worth the minutes up front to help long-term class participation and interest.
These are just a few of the many brain breaks out there. Not all are specific to the World Language classroom, but they can be adapted quite easily. Another option is to take a favorite rhyme or hand game in your target language or to search in your language via YouTube or Google.
No matter what you find, find a way to let students move and have a good time.
Over the years, I’ve gone back and forth on whether I like word clouds or not. After attending Amy Lenord’s session on Liberation from the List at Central States, I decided to give them another try. Over the past few weeks, I’ve worked with the clouds in various capacities to get the most out of their use. Here are a few of the activities:
1. Introduction of vocabulary
Copy and past the content of a website into the word cloud site and create! Once the word cloud is complete, students can begin by searching for cognates and words they know. I also encourage them to make educated guesses about words based on what they already know about the language. Students can share all the words with the class, and this becomes their vocabulary list. Once students have found these words (which usually ends up being WAY more than they could imagine), have them write a short summary of what they think the website might be about. For novice mid students, you may just have them write the most important words from the cloud. Now that you’ve activated some prior knowledge, students can read through the text and do various interpretive activities.
2. Info gap activities
There are a few different ways to do info gaps with word clouds. For my 3rd graders, I created a word cloud with adjectives and asked students to highlight the words that describe themselves. Once they did that, students paired up and asked each other about the various adjectives, highlighting with a different color on the word cloud. Students finished by creating a Venn Diagram to compare themselves with their friends. This could work with any set of vocabulary in terms of likes and dislikes.
In the 5th grade, I used word clouds to condense an “All About Me” page from a blog post. I created two clouds – one for each post. Students answered questions about their post based on the cloud and then partnered up to ask and answer questions based on their cloud.
3. All About Me
Word clouds are also a great way to present information. They can be used to start the year as a way to introduce students to one another or at the end of the year to sum up the various vocabulary pieces the students learned. I find that providing a brainstorm document of some sort helps students organize their thoughts and put more information into the cloud.
4. Guess Who
A word cloud is a great way to play Guess Who? in class. Students create their cloud without their name and their classmates try to guess who it is. The other day, I had students move from cloud to cloud. Not only did they guess the name of the person, but also wrote palabras claves, key words that helped them determine to whom the cloud belonged. Some were obvious, such as the student obsessed with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Lebron James, and others were much trickier as multiple students participate in the same activities.
There are various sites you can use to create your world cloud. Here are a few that I’ve used in the past:
-Wordle: This is one of the original sites and provides you the ability to change fonts, colors, and word direction. The more times you write a word, the larger it becomes. You can copy text from websites, song lyrics, etc. It requires flash, so it cannot be used on a iPad. It often asks for updates and seems to work best on Firefox rather than Chrome or Safari.
-Tagxedo: This site is similar to Wordle, but also allows you to create the word clouds in various shapes. It also requires a plugin, but once downloaded, works just fine. It also works best on Firefox or Safari.
-Tagul: My favorite of the three at this point, Tagul works on any browser and also on the iPads. It gives more freedom than the others in that colors, fonts, and word directions can be changed for individual words or the word cloud as a whole. Tagul does require a login, but if students have Google accounts through the school, they can use them here. The benefit of logging in, however, is that the site saves your work and you can return to it later.
How do you use word clouds in class?
It’s April and everyone is in a slump (at least my students and I are). As I dive deeper into my 4th grade unit on the Olympics, I find myself wanting something a bit more. It isn’t the authentic resources I’m lacking, or the interpersonal activities, but rather a little something something for the students to get overly excited about. Enter Cromos.
Bethanie Drew wrote about the use of Cromos, which are basically trading cards for the World Cup, in this blog post. Based on the post and our Twitter conversations, it sounded like the cards were a ton of fun. But how could I use World Cup Cromos for my Olympics unit? Would the kids really be able to connect with the cards if they had nothing to do with what we are studying?
I decided it was time to do a little DIY. In class, the students are using pictures of real athletes headed to Rio 2016 as a point for conversation about the sports, geography, and how sports are played. These are people the students are already familiar with and they are also a great connection to the sports the students love.Why not use these athletes to create our own set of Cromos?
I did a little Google searching for an Olympics frame and Rio 2016 symbol, and I created my own template for the Cromos. (A downloadable file is available below.)
Each student will receive a template and a set of pictures of the various athletes with whom we are working. They will create a set of 16 Cromos for each player, which I will then laminate. Since I have more than one class, some athletes will have more than 16. I'm curious as to wether some, such as Lionel Messi and Pau Gasol, who the students know, will become more popular or coveted as we move forward.
Throughout the rest of the unit and school year, students will earn Cromos for their behavior and also their use of Spanish. I’m not usually one for this type of reward, but as we near the end of the school year, I think this group could really use it. Students know that in order to earn a Cromo, they must using the highest quality Spanish they can (complete sentences for most of them) during structured activities. During unstructured time or if there is a question, students use their Spanish to the best of their ability. During this unstructured time, I am not looking for perfection, but rather effort, circumlocution, and just using what they know to communicate.
Aside from being a different and fun way to bring the Olympics into the classroom, I am hoping this will excite them about the upcoming Olympics and the many Spanish-speakers involved. Perhaps they will even follow an athlete or two this summer.
Although mine are focused on the Olympics, these cards could really work for any unit you are doing where there are real athletes, musicians, or other people involved. For example, Carrie Toth does a Music Madness in March to reflect the NCAA's March Madness. Cromos would be a great way for students to learn about the musicians and/or groups they are voting for. You can use people, groups, countries, etc. It can be quite a task to find all of the pictures, names, and information, but it is a great way to incorporate the cultural piece into any unit. Not only that, it provides students a chance to ask and answer questions about real people without already knowing all of the answers!
I’ve been thinking about lesson planning with the idea of prime times for learning during a class period. A recent post by Melanie Stilson brought these ideas back to the front of my brain. After attending a session at a recent conference, she was able to visualize the shift in her teaching, which she put to paper. Her visual of the peaks and valleys of the lesson made sense, but honestly, I was having trouble wrapping my head around the concept for my 30 minute elementary classes. The whole thing makes total sense – hit them with input when they walk in, take it down a notch, give a break, come back at them strong with conversation. But is this really necessary in a 30-minute class? What would it actually look like?
My next read was Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell blog post that touches on exactly this point. There are two main parts of the lesson that are best for activities that require large amounts of focus: the beginning (primacy) and the end (recency). The two most important pieces are the input at the start of the lesson and the activity with what Cottrell calls “high response interaction” (aka interpersonal communication). These two pieces really needed to be the focus of each and every day and should take the most amount of time – about 20-22 minutes of the class. A short dip after the input creates a few minutes for an activity related to that input. With only 30 minutes, the brain break shouldn’t be more than a minute or two.
That’s a lot to take in and figure out. Thankfully, Sara-Elizabeth and Amy Leonard created easy-to-visualize lesson planners for 60 and 90-minute and 50 minute classes. I’ve adapted these to create a template that works for my 30 minute elementary classes:
Here’s what the lesson looked like:
Prime time 1: I shared what I did over my Spring Break using some pictures from my vacation. Once I shared the activities, I put the students’ activity on the board to model. Using the Olympic events (our current focus in 4th grade), I talked about the activities I watched (basketball and baseball) and the ones I participated in (lifting weights and bike riding). (~15 minutes)
Down time: Students circled the events in which they participated or watched during their Spring Break. (3-5 minutes)
Brain break: Statues (thank you Sara-Elizabeth!): Teacher calls out any word and students create a statue of that word. I used this as a way to do a little formative check as to what they remembered of current vocabulary (basketball, boxing, rowing, etc.) and past vocabulary (lion, frog, happy, etc.). (2 minutes)
Prime time 2: Students walked around asking each other what they did over their vacation in the TL, recording the information in their notebooks. (7-10 minutes)
Time flies with only 30 minutes, but this break down really helped me focus on the important pieces of the lesson. As I do this more and more, I’m hoping to really hone the timing to ensure the bookends of the lesson get the attention and time they deserve.
I don’t know about you, but as long as I’ve been a Spanish teacher, I’ve always taught some iteration of activities students like to do. Sometimes it’s sports focused while other times it’s plans for the summer. No matter what, kids like to share what they do. Over the years, like many others, I’ve tried to find different ways to incorporate this into larger themes or ideas – no more me gusta without a purpose or intent. I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a thematic unit around world sports for the past few years, but it never seemed to gel. With the help of some great ideas from #CSCTFL16, I think I’ve finally started to pull it together. With the summer Olympics just around the corner, I figured this was the perfect time to get my butt in gear!
Part of the push to focus on the Olympics, or anything other than just sports, was that many of my students had no interest in sports. Ask them what they like, and they say “I don’t know”. If the goal is to have interpersonal conversation, that obviously isn't going to work. With the Olympics, however, there are something like 42 events to choose from. There has to be at least one that interests everyone! (Or at least I hope!) While still a work in progress, the unit is starting to take shape. Here are the current essential questions:
As a way to introduce the unit, I shared the official Olympic events symbols. Without any information, I asked students to match a set of vocabulary words to the pictures.
After attending Amy Lenord’s Central State’s session on List Liberation I went back and forth on whether to provide any vocabulary at all. After some internal debate, however, I decided a set of core vocabulary was necessary to get my 4th graders started, but to let them go from there. The personal vocabulary piece is essential to maintain their interest, but at this age, I believe they still need a starting point. Once students matched the vocabulary I gave them (mostly cognates or words they needed to think about but could guess), they were tasked with finding 3 extra words which they shared in groups.
Once we matched the vocabulary, we began the conversation about the Olympics with this great infographic:
Using interpretive reading strategies from ACTFL’s Implementing Integrated Performance Assessments, students worked in groups to see what they could figure out. There is a lot of language here for a 4th grade novice mid, so I made sure to focus their attention. Students already saw the pictures in a previous activity, which helped bring down their affective filter. This map gave us the opportunity to talk geography (Where is Brazil? What is the capital?) and language, since many students don’t realize that Brazil is not a Spanish-speaking country. I also made sure to focus a question on the transportation available, to give students an opportunity to add these words to their vocabulary. We used the map to practice our interpersonal skills with questions about what activities are available and the similarities and differences in the offerings at each stadium. By breaking students into 4 groups (one per stadium), they needed their classmates to answer questions about event availability before they decided which stadium location they might choose to attend.
Sadly, neither my 4th graders nor I will be attending the Olympics this year. And even if we were, the students certainly would not be planning the trip. Keeping this in mind, I decided to focus on what students might watch with their friends instead of what they might attend. In 4th grade, they may not be planning travel, but they are deciding what to watch on TV and with whom to hang out.
Using the schedule of events, we did some more exploring of what was available when. Central States keynote, John De Mado, discussed the need for students to “guess” effectively in order to continue their language growth. Acting on this principal, I focused my questions on sports that students had possibly come across, but would not necessarily know. For example, they know correr is to run, but could they figure out Track and Field based on the picture and previously hearing the information in conversation? If they know nadar is to swim, can the determine that nado sincronizado is synchronized swimming? It seemed easy enough, but for some of my 9 year olds, it was a push. Not only did the schedule allow me to bring in more vocabulary, but also to have the conversation about the date in Spanish. Despite having this conversation before, the students ALWAYS seem to get tripped up! Another crack at a cultural difference (and numbers practice) is always a plus!
The schedule was also a great way to talk about student interests around the sports. Since each word has a picture associated, there is less stress in choosing activities that might not be so popular or easy to decipher. If I like archery and you like fencing, it doesn’t really matter that they aren’t cognates. I have the pictures and Spanish there to assist me! As students started talking about which events interest them – moving away from me gusta and introducing me interesa – we also added in some adjectives to describe why. Yet another chance for guided interpersonal practice (woohoo!). Using a simple chart, students tracked their friends’ answers and talked about who had similar interests. (I use this structure a lot for interpersonal practice so students can clearly see the questions they are working with and also keep track of the information.)
As we move forward in the unit, we will look at medal counts as a way to further practice numbers in context. Lord knows we need the practice! Eventually, students will predict what country might win the most of each medal and why. Students will take on the identity of an Olympian in a sport they enjoy and will do a presentational activities with personal information as well as information about their sport, which will lead to a final interpersonal.
Bringing the Olympics into the classroom is so much more than just activities. We’re making connections to geography, math, culture, and beyond! Using authentic resources to guide the conversation makes the language more real and gives it a purpose beyond the classroom walls. So many of my students play sports that are involved in the Olympics, and now they have a chance to share about themselves in a cultural and language context.
No one ever wants to fail. Ever. But the truth is, periodic failure offers much more than perfection. If you are perfect (and who can really say they are?!?!) then there is no room to learn and grow.
As a teacher, I feel like I often spend hours crafting what I hope is the most amazing and exciting lesson or activity. I think I’ve considered all angles, worked through giving the directions, thought about the vocabulary my students need, etc.; I’ve got this lesson in the bag. And then – EPIC FAIL!!
But is it really a failure? Or is it only a failure if you never learn and grow? We ask our students to learn from their mistakes, so shouldn’t we, as teachers, model that behavior for them? Taking a failed lesson and reflecting and working through it to make it better is really no longer a failure. Not only is the lesson better, but also you as a teacher are better. Growth mindset is the current buzzword in education, but it is more than that, it is a choice to look at and reflect on your teaching to make it better for you and for your students.
Reflecting on failure has a benefit for our students as well. Imagine a teacher that never tried new ideas and always played it safe. Not only might the class be a bit boring, but also she sends the message to her students that risk-taking and change are not important. A teacher who looks for new opportunities and ideas, however, demonstrates the importance of taking risks. We constantly encourage our students, especially World Language students, to take risks and put their language use out there. If we don’t model that behavior with our teaching, why should they believe us?
It isn’t, however, just the risk-taking that we model. When an assignment or activity doesn’t work quite right, it is important that we model the reflection process with our students as well. Including them in the reflection not only provides us as teachers with a different perspective, but also teaches students that mistakes are great, but reflecting and improving is even better!
Failure provides that real-life, teachable moment. So grab your epic fails by the horns and reflect and change to make the failure worthwhile.
Winter break is over and it’s back to work, but this year, the first day back is a bit different. I spent the past two weeks in Panama, living the culture and the language. Other than having a great time and enjoying the warm weather, it made me realize how important travel is for a language teacher.
Travel is fun. It can be relaxing, educational, inspiring and more! For language teachers, however, travel can be much, much more. For many language teachers, the opportunities to practice their target language (TL), is rare. While many of us may have chance to use our TL in our everyday lives, it is often at a surface level. Travel, on the other hand, opens us to a world of possibility to learning and practice, which we bring back to our classrooms in both planned and unplanned ways.
1. Brush up on your language.
Whether or not you use language in the classroom every day, I would imagine your TL could use a bit of a brush-up. Speaking classroom language to 8 years old (in my case) is not ensuring I maintain my language skills. Many of our classroom conversations are limited; travel expands the topics of conversation, challenges our language negotiation skills, and often pushes us out of our comfort zone. It is also a great reminder of what our students go through everyday as we acclimate to new vocabulary and situations.
It's been just a week since I've returned home from #ACTFL15, but my brain is still buzzing with everything I learned. Not only was the conference held in the gorgeous San Diego, but also it has been a while since I’ve attended a conference of this size. It was a whirlwind of learning, connecting, and sharing. At such a large conference, it can be extremely difficult to make the most of your time. There are so many sessions and so many workshops, that it can feel impossible to choose, and you certainly cannot make it to them all. To make the most of any conference, whether big or small, here are a few tips:
1. Plan ahead.
Before you go, it is essential to determine your goals. What do you need to work on the most? What are you hoping to achieve from the conference? Once you determine your goal, spend some time going over the conference guide and decide on sessions that could help you meet that goal. By focusing your attention on those sessions, you are sure to walk away with ideas and activities that support your needs. As you read over the session descriptions, search for keywords and phrases such as: activities, ready to use, and tricks and tips. Spend some time looking at the presenters. Do you teach elementary school? If so, university presenter probably won't be your best bet. It's not to say that their presentation won't be good, but rather that they may not have the boots-on-the-ground experience you're looking for.
2. Don't be afraid to meet new people.
One of the best parts about attending a conference is meeting other professionals like you. These attendees are looking for the same things you are; that's why they're there! Pick their brains, share information, and ask lots of questions! Other attendees may have suggestions on sessions to attend, great websites and blogs to follow, or, they may just provide you with great conversation. It never hurts to broaden your professional learning community (PLC).
3. Connect with social media
Many conferences these days use Twitter as a way to connect attendees and cull information. This is a great way to share information from sessions you’ve attended and gain insights from those you couldn’t make. Further, Twitter gives a platform to reread highlights and re-explore ideas. By using Twitter during the conference, you also expand your PLC, which helps extend your learning beyond the few days spent at the conference. With so many attendees and so many points of view, the Twitter cache is sure to have tips and ideas you missed during your session.
4. Take time to process.
Attending a conference does not necessarily mean attending a session at every time slot. While sessions are a must, so is conversation and processing time; there is only so much you can take in at one time. Attending more sessions does not necessarily guarantee taking more back to your classroom. Some of my best learning and creating, in fact, takes place between sessions or at lunch. Focus on a few ideas that truly stood out to you and spend some time thinking them through. What will the idea look like in your classroom? How can you adapt it for your students? Look back at your notes and annotate with how these ideas connect to your classroom.
Taking time to process on your own is important, but so is conversation with colleagues. Invite a new friend to lunch or to grab coffee between a session you just attended together. Take the time to not only get to know them, but to process the workshop together. The back and forth can lead to bigger and better ideas, and to ways to begin implementing ideas on Monday when you return.
Attending a conference can be overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. With these quick tips, you can make the most of your time and create a scenario for continued learning and improving even once you return home.
Instagram is a social network platform of images and descriptions from around the world. By following people on Instagram, you receive photographs and videos in a constant stream. These visuals, posted by native speakers from around the world, offer a wealth of resources for the World Language classroom. Posts are done by native speakers, for native speakers, and make for the perfect piece for classroom activities. These images are great for activities in all three modes, but especially for the interpretive.
One of my favorite accounts is National Geographic in Spanish (@Natgeoesp). As expected, the images in this account are gorgeous, and offer stunning scenery and animal shots. The photo below is one of my favorites, and is perfect for my novice-level unit on animals and the food chain! Not only does the picture capture the food chain in motion, but the caption “¡La captura! ¡La caputra en el aire!” gives a jumping-off point for a conversation around the animals, their eating habits, and the food chain in general.