Holiday Fun And Activities for Spanish Class!

    Holiday Fun and Activities for Spanish Class!

I wanted to share some quick activities that I have used in my class for teaching students about celebrations throughout Latin America and Spain. Since Spanish is spoken in over 20 countries, it can be really difficult to nail down what celebrations to cover. So, I took the student-centered route; I had students research the celebrations on their own. It was super simple, and actually, it took me all of 5 minutes to plan:

1. Holiday Celebrations in December 

1. Grab a stack of 30 index cards
2. Write two countries per card (15 countries total, if you want them to work in groups)
3. Distribute cards to students and have them research holiday celebrations.

I have them write the following in their notebooks:

For Spanish 1, they could write the description in English/Spanish. For Spanish 2+, they had to write in Español.

Google: Holiday Celebrations+ Country

Características especiales______________________

Speaking Activity
Students got into groups of 4 to share; then we got into a circle and each person shared about their celebration.

2. Follow-Up Video on Celebrations

This video is from Sergi Martin. It is a whopping 14 minutes long, but I only used the first 2-3 minutes. I made the activities available on TPT for free (easier to distribute), please modify as you wish. Originally, this was for my Spanish 3+, but I used it with Spanish 1 this year. I had them focus on the text displayed on the screen. One of the BIG takeaways was that some of the people from Spanish-speaking countries were asking about the other person's traditions. My students picked up on this right away, and we talked about the differences. This difference is also highlighted in the short text they read introducing the video.

Celebrations in Spanish-Speaking Countries Video 

PDF and Word Activity (freebie)

Grab your suitcase and go! Well, sort of! I have done the Maleta activity for the last few years, and the kids absolutely love it! In many countries in Latin America, the New Year is all about new beginnings and making plans for the new year. One custom is packing a "maleta", and running around the block in hopes of traveling the next year. This activity allows students to do just that.

La Maleta Activity 
1. Students write three places where they'd like to go using the structure "ir+ infinitive verb."
2. They write the places on their maleta.
3. Take the maleta in hand, and run around the school (this is all included).

Extension activity: Choose one of the places and write three places you can visit there!

3. Goal-Setting Reading and Activity for the New Year 

Reading: Borrón y Cuenta Nueva- Simple reading on the origin of the expression. This is a student-friendly text and includes examples from their lives (school, working out).
Language practice: Two-construction verbs- Quiero+infinitive/ making plans

Borrón y Cuenta Nueva 

Borrón y cuenta nueva, is a common expression around this time of year. As I started to sift through different posts on social media, I became very intrigued as to the origin of this frequently used expression. It made me think of the word "Palimpsest" that I had learned in graduate school while studying the Chronicles of Columbus. Since Spanish was not Columbus’ first language, Bartolomé de las Casas, transcribed and rewrote 75% Columbus’ journals. The process was compared to a Roman Palimpsest as Columbus' observations were superimposed by those of the Spanish Priests. 
          For the first day back to school after Holiday break,  all my classes will be engaging in some form of  "Borrón y cuenta nueva" goal setting activity. 
This past year, our staff engaged in a considerable amount of PD on resilience, so why not allow it to take root in the language class. The goal setting activities have the aim of making students mindful of their goals, setting objectives that will, Ojalá, guide them through the year. It also serves as an authentic real-world activity in where they will use language in a dynamic and goal-oriented way. 

New Year Mindfulness Activity: Spanish 1+

Borrón y Cuenta Nueva for Spanish 1+ 

Themes included in the reading:

  • Setting New Years’ Goals 
  • Short history of the origin of the expression (very comprehensible)  
  • Smart Goals and how to create them (scaffolded and scaled down)
  • Goal setting worksheet (samples and structures included)

  • Comprehension questions for text (in Spanish and English)
  • Age-appropriate text highlighting the following: 

Language structures: Tenían (this structured is used to convey most of the information regarding scribes), tener que, -ar, -er and -er verbs. querer+ infinitive, Tener+ infinitive   

Vocabulary: Nochevieja, Tradición, Metas, etc.  

What a "novel" idea! Check out the new novels for Spanish class!

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New Year Tradition in Colombia and Venezuela

New Year Celebrations in Spanish-Speaking Countries

This year, my goal is to better immerse my students in the traditions and celebrations of the rich cultures of Spanish speaking countries. I say "cultures" to honor the wide range of traditions from Latin America, Spain and Spanish Africa.  We are a few days out until Winter Break and these activities were an attempt to bring in meaningful, comprehensible and fun activities. I have outlined my lessons plans below at the end of this post.  

For both classes, I will be doing the "Maleta" activity. I have seen this ritual in action and it's pretty fun. My husband is from Colombia and last year, at the brink of the New year, many people were running around Cedritos, the neighborhood in which his family lives in Bogotá, the capital.  The activity is pretty simple; you take an empty suitcase (although I would pack it with clothes) and you run around the block. Running about the back is called "dar una vuelta a la manzana." You do this in hopes that you will travel the following year.  ¡Me encanta!

For my Spanish 1 students, they will read the blurb about the tradition and then use the construction "querer" ir "or "quiero ir, quiero visitar" to say where they would like to go. 

Yo quiero viajar a Australia. 
Yo quiero ir a Panamá. 

We just finished reading a short story La clase de confesiones, where many of these verbs were emphasized, so they should have a good handle on them. Even if your students are not familiar with this construction, they could use it for this activity. 

New Year Celebrations in Spanish-Speaking Countries- Upper grades 

For my Spanish IV class, I am basically implementing the same activity, however with a twist. Students will use the imperfect subjunctive and the conditional to say where they'd like to travel, if they could. 

Dando la vuelta por la manzana... en la escuela. 
The last part of the "Maleta" activity will be actually going around the block... or the pasillo.  I am actually going to take my students to the hallway in our school for us to walk around a few times. This will be a good activity for them and also for our school community. 

With my upper grades, we will to the Maleta activity and the Monigotes- ridding- ourselves- of- bad habits- activity. See my previous post about the Monigotes. Instead of burning them... we'll just snowball them into the garbage. 
I am actually looking forward to work these next few days. 

Free Reading Card 

To accommodate for all the traditions and celebrations, I am having my students do Free Reading of holiday celebrations. I am printing out some articles I got from MaryGlasgow- we have a subscription (there are also some good ones on TPT). 

Students will use this "Tarjeta Bibliotecaria" that I created for quick reads. 

Please share your holiday lesson plans!

Check our more celebrations below!
Interesting article

New Year's Borrón y cuenta nueva short reading and goal setting activity

New Year's Borrón y cuenta short reading and goal setting activity (Spanish 1/2)

New Year's Borrón y cuenta short reading and goal setting activity (Spanish 3-5)

What a "novel" idea! Check out the new novels for Spanish class!

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Las tradiciones de habla hispana- Activities for Spanish 1-4

This is our last week before break and I wanted to share some short but sweet activities for teaching holiday celebrations at this time.

Resource for Spanish 3 and beyond.
Navidad Hispana and Lotería resource- Spanish 3/4

Resource for Spanish 1
Navidad Hispana and Lotería Short film

The Navidad Hispana resource is by Sergi Martin, the video link is included in the documents. Click here to see the video.  I stumbled upon it this past week and quickly developed some activities that my students could connect to in addition to providing them with an overview of important cultural practices. The video is 14 minutes long,  but I only created resources for the first three minutes.  In an attempt to streamline,  the activity has the same formatting but is differentiated to suit the different levels of students.

Celebraciones de América Latina Videos and resources.

Resource for Spanish 3 and beyond.
Navidad Hispana and Lotería resource- Spanish 3/4 

Resource for Spanish 1
Navidad Hispana and Lotería Short film 

Activity 2: Short Film about "La Loteria Española" (3 minutes)

Anuncio de la lotería

for Spanish 3 and beyond.
Navidad Hispana and Lotería resource- Spanish 3/4 

Resource for Spanish 1
Navidad Hispana and Lotería Short film 

This film is very heart-warming. The Abuela, has dementia (at least that is what it seems like) and thinks she has won the lottery. Her family and townspeople go along with the script to make her happy. In my view, this film shows how we must engage sometimes in "La Bella Mentira" to preserve the dignity of others.  If you do this activity for Spanish 1, you will see a question about La Bella Mentira. They just finished the short story, La clase de confesiones, around that topic (hence the question at the lower level).

¡Más Recursos!

El Regalo: Short Film (2 minutes)
El regalo cortometraje

This video is super short about a granddaughter giving a gift to her grandfather. The vocabulary for the Navidad Hispana and La Lotería Spanish 1 activity dovetails perfectly.

Los Monigotes
I love this activity, we do it every year. We watch videos, discuss the traditions and then students engage in a New Year/ Leaving Monigotes behind. Click here for the video.

Click here for the PPT 
Click here for the New Year Activity

Click here for the New Year activity

Internado Episodio 4:10 Freebies- Edición Escándalo- Gossip Column

5 Activities for processing chapter 4 of El Internado 

Chapter 4 of El Internado is one of the craziest and most scandalous in the fist suite of episodes. We learn the deeper secrets about the characters. We learn about el descaro de Elsa, la conflictividad sentimental de Carolina and, well, a fin de cuentas, somos de barro y no de hierro, en otras palabras, Iván as feelings too.

I created these resources for my students (free to you) because I wanted to capitalize on four things, hence this post: Discouraging students from speaking in English, Keeping them accountable for what they watch, Writing a Gossip Column about events, but with their own unique twists, reviewing by way of dialogue (I created a dialogue of two students talking about the steamy Internado episode). I found the dialogue to be a much better way of reviewing! 

1. I was so irritated that students kept talking in English during the episode, so I gave them this 
Expressions placemat sheet."  It can be used with any episode. As I listened to them shout out in class, I jotted down some useful expressions they could integrate naturally. I am old-school, so I had a clipboard taking notes, giving a point or two to those who used them. They all did at the end! 

Students had to use these, instead of English, while watching. It was pretty fun and it kept them in the language.

2. Accountability sheet. Every 15 minutes (90-minute class sessions) I'd stop and they would do the following:

1. Record new words
2. Write about something they liked, or did not like using " me choca que + subjunctive and me preocupa que+ subjunctive
3. Something  "Escandaloso"... plent there.

The accountability sheet helped them to contextualize and understand more deeply this awesome and regarded part of speech. I thought they were more motivated to engage in discussion.  

3. Students wrote a Gossip Column (in pairs)  using the words highlighted below in the Quizlet link. They could take any event that happened at El Internado and expand on it. It was more like Enquirer style writing.  They had the liciencia artística to do so.  Instructions, rubric and example are all included.

4.  I also had so many students missing from class when we saw the first part of the episode (election trauma), so I created this dialogue sprinkled with expressions such as Ni te cuento, ect (and questions) between two students talking about what happened. The dialogue uses vocabulary from our unit.  This could be a good review, especially if you are watching every other week.

Vocabulary from unit  (I am sharing this por si acaso, eh) 

Previous Post on El Internado (Chapter 2)

Reading Passage and Grammar Activity: Killing Two Birds with One Stone! 

This month in my Spanish IV class we are exploring the Relationships. I deviated from my usual Art unit a bit since we started El Internado in the beginning of the year. Turns out that the next few episodes of the Spanish series (Mar de plástico is by the same creator) are centered on relationships. What a juicy coincidence that my students get to discuss relationships and to see some of those complications play out on screen with their most adored characters.

Reading passage for El Internado and Subjunctive Activity 

So I have been trying to incorporate more reading that would have the dual function of highlighting the nuances of language while promoting interest. I created this synopsis, marrying the two that sheds light on the complicated world of relationships, expresses how we feel about relationships (subjunctive) in the midst of a high-interest context (El Internado).

Click here for the synopsis and five activities

Here is how you can implement this free resource:

1. Invite students read the one-page summary.
2. Activity 1: Ask them to reread and highlight the subjunctive tense. 
3. Activity 2: Write the sentences with the subjunctive and determine which function of WEIRDOS is being applied.  
4. Activity 3: Respond to subjunctive triggering questions. 
5. Activity 4: Use subjunctive sentence stems in order to write about the characters.
6. Activity 5: Respond to general questions about the episode.

Every year that I have used this series, I have a slightly different focus. This resource fits right into the unit we are doing on relationships.   Since this time around we are discussing what is the key to a good relationship in addition to complications that may arise, this episode of the Internado was perfect.

How to increase input, output and "enchular" tu clase de Español!

I am a true Telenovelera y de pura cepa. Despite having a packed schedule and busy life like most of my fellow soldiers out in the  trenches of academia, I still make time for my most beloved pastime- Telenovelas. While washing dishes or preparing meals, I have my iPad tuned to Netflix where I have access to the vast array of drama-land. Consistent with the Comprehensible Input theory, I realized that watching these 40 minute drama-drenched conundrums my vocabulary had improved both dramatically and incidentally. I learned a host of new expressions from other countries and now I am "weird" one speaking at home (Spanish is my second language but my husband's family is from Colombia).  I often have slip ups of rarely used word and phrases and I am puzzled as to "where did that come from". So, this got me to thinking more seriously about the relationship between the use of media and one's receptive and productive vocabularies. Furthermore, if these content rich series have produced this native-like outpouring of language in my own life, couldn't the result be same for my students?   I put this theory to the test!

Everyone is watching El Internado and so should you!

Every one is watching the Internado nowadays. If you are not, then you should be! The boarding school series laced with drama was hook, line and sinker for my Spanish 4s this past year. I actually stumbled upon it on Pinterest and decided to check it out the summer before presenting and then- I was hopelessly hooked. I was going to bed thinking "Pobrecitos, que serán de Marcos y su hermana." This series had me on the edge.  I started showing it in class, having given students a peep at the Gran Hotel the semester before. They were immediately enamored with the plot and its Ronan like twists and turns. However, I did not know quite what to do with this.  I swam in the vast ocean of the internet and found some very promising blogs. To my surprise, there where other Internado life forms out in the blogosphere. I'd like to share a few blogs I consulted and then one way in which I have totally absorb this new resource into my curriculum.

The Internado Specialist 
My Generation of Polygots a fellow educator, Mike Peto, has spent quite a lot of time crafting activities the first season of the Internado. The vocabulary along with other worthwhile activities can be found on TeacherPayTeachers.  Although the bundle is approximately $7. It is totally worth it for the first episode as it sets the tone and primes students to engaging in this cultural phenomena. Click here to see his product.  He has up to season 4. Interested in Mike's insights about the series, you can also click here for his blog.

 *Please note that  I will be uploading more bits and pieces throughout the year. The bulk of the content created really came later in the year once I realized its potential. I am still formatting (to make if better for you) the vocabulary lists, expressions list, PPT and dynamic Chat Stations that revolutionize my class and my relationship with my students.

Internado- This Is How I roll 
So to fully integrate the Internado into my class, I made sure to align the episode with our thematic lessons and grammar focus for the unit.  Here is the run down:

1. First I show them this PPT of the main characters. We talk about where they live and the students make predictions of that they think the show is going to be about. I got this PPT online at some point, but cannot remember where. Since I start in the beginning of the year, this is a pivotal time to lightly review descriptive adjectives and all of the indicative tenses. There is a lot here you can do in the first viewing of the characters:

- Compare and contrast the groups of friends with your group
-Compare and contrast the school setting with yours
-Judge a book by its cover- based on the character's appearance determine a list of personality traits.
Reparto del Internado

2. Then I pass out this Character Grid for watching the Trailer. It has the main reparto of characters. I cooked up really quickly before one of my classes. As students watch they have to make annotations about the relationships between the characters. They use this as we view the trailer. Click here for the Internado trailer.
Character grid. 

After whetting their appetites with the  Internado trailer, I have them get into small groups and discuss the questions below:

Few ideas to do with the questions: 

  • Students can respond individually and then get into groups 
  • Place questions throughout the class and have students walk around. When the music stops they have to sit and speak with a partner. 
  • Chat Stations- I got this idea in general from the Cult of Pedagogy.  I type out the questions 1 by 1 in 70 size font. I print those copies and then each one is taped to a  8X16 piece of construction paper and spread throughout the room. 
  • Power Point- I also just enlarge the questions and flip through the PPT. They can move around or sit in a group and discuss. At the end, I also cut the questions (regular size additional copy) into strips and then these are exit tickets. Each student has a different question. 

Internado Preliminary Questions 
1. ¿Te gustaría vivir en un Internado?  

2. ¿Cuáles son las ventajas y desventajas de vivir en un Internado?  ¿Para los estudiantes? ¿Para los profesores?

3. ¿Cómo serían las relaciones entre los estudiantes y profesores?

4. ¿Por qué crees que los padres ponen sus hijos en Internados? ¿Crees que son familias con medios o personas de clase media?  

5. ¿Cómo serían las relaciones entre los estudiantes?

6. ¿Por qué crees que los Internados están muy apartados de la sociedad?

7. ¿Cuáles son algunas situaciones locas que podrían pasar en Internado que no podría pasar en una escuela regular?

8. Las drogas hoy en día es un gran problema en las preparatorias y las universidades. ¿Crees que este problema sería más controlado en un Internado?

Critical Thinking and Making Predictions 
Questions and those similar to these get students to think about implications of attending a boarding school and prepare them for the input.

 I'd love to have a whole year dedicated to watching and analyzing El Internado as the content definitively stretches. One of the most important things I do is to bend its content to fit with our thematic unit. This makes watching a movie fun but still feels like school. It also helps them to make connections.  During the first viewing, we were working on our Las Relaciones unit so naturally, the first two episodes centered on Relaciones.  We used the content of the Internado to:

1. Describe relationships and people
2. Discuss love and relationships
3. Jealousy (Ivan and Marcos)

The grammar point emphasized throughout this unit was the present subjunctive so many of the questions and how they engaged gave them an opportunity to use this language function. This function was a good fit.  I created this contextualized activity for chapter 2.

Part of the chapter 2 activity

Students use the subjunctive to describe how everyone wants life to be.
The use impersonal phrases as well. 

 Students used the questions in groups. Although the activity is in the form of a worksheet, I usually write the questions in big form, spread them throughout the room and students engage in a 1 minute speed dating activity. This last class I had loved it. They could not wait to get to the Internado. In fact, I had one student who had missed a unit assessment. The only day she could take it was the day we'd watch El Internado and she decided to come after school. She said "There is no way I am missing the Internado."

Check out the series. It is available on Netflix. Until we meet again!

 More to come- stay tuned!

7 Free Gustar Activities to guarantee fun in the class!

Activities that promote a clear path to mastery; practice builds confidence. 

This week,  I'd like to share a few activities surrounding the structure gustar that helped my students stay in the target language, engage with authentic resources and stimulate ongoing conversation in the class. I implemented the lesson referenced in this post with my Spanish I students, who truly were novice-low at the beginning of the year (I am used to having novice-mid first year).  Since my students were starting from scratch (pronouncing que as "qwue"),  I have had to retrofit my curriculum, to account for the needs of my present class. If you are like me, in need of some quick curriculum overalls, check out previous posts below, otherwise, enjoy the free Gustar activities! 

1. A new spin on teaching the date and other boring things in Spanish!

These posts outline ideas, activities maps (most are free) for reshaping the novice- level experience and putting them on track for mastery.  

7- Gustar Activities that guarantee fun in the class!

We are well into our school unit, but prior to the unit, my first stop or preferred language structure is the verb gustar, similar to querer, tener and poder, I like to call them, “gateway verbs.”  After learning this verb, conversation skyrocketed to all new heights in my class. I believed the carefully crafted materials helped.  

We practiced discussing likes and dislikes without having had a proper “ introduction” but then the question arose and we dove right in. These seven activities afforded a combination of most learning styles and really pumped up my class. 

1. Activity 1: Rafael Nadal 

Authentic Video Activities for Novice Level Students 
Rafael Nadal: Power Commercial 

Video Link:

Rafael Nadal: Power Commercial 
Gustar Resource- Video-Listening- Speed dating activity and more!

1. I created a quick blurb about the tennis star so that students were familiar with him. Here is how it all went down: 

  •  First, they read a blurb about the tennis star (in the suite of docs above). 
  • After they are introduced to him, I played the video with the audio only. I froze the screen and had them write down the words they heard.  
  • Then, I posted the words (in the activity) on the board. Students took another listen and they wrote the words they heard for the second time (I had added some distractor words to get a true test of their discriminative listening skills).
  • Then, I played the video and they were able to confirm. They then spoke about this likes and dislikes. Since the words flash across the screen, they were able to make an immediate connection. 

Activity 2-6: María Fernanda, Video and Activities 

Click the link below for her Youtube Video 

María una niña colombiana 

Click this link for free resources: Gustar Resource- Video-Listening- Speed dating activity and more!

I really liked this short video of a Colombian girl who talks about her likes and dislikes. Just like the first video, they listened and jotted down what they heard. 

I created 4 activities to accompany this video. They are in the above-referenced suite of documents. 

  • Basic question activity. Students listen once and then circle the correct answer (name, age, etc). 
  • Students listen again and then check off the things she likes and likes to do (list provided)
  • Write sentences using the structure
  • Extension activity. I gave them several options and they had to choose which event or class María would like or like to attend based on what she said in the video. Students are given a stem sentence/template for citing visual evidence. 


 What a "novel" idea! Check out the new novels for Spanish class!

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100% in the Target Language?


Teaching 100% in the TL? 

This year I am struggling with staying 100 % in the target language. Although I slow down and try as much as possible to make the input comprehensible, I still hear students asking- what did she say?  Many students are still shy to ask questions, they want to look "cool" in front of their peers. Many times I just feeling like tirando la toalla and just giving them simple instructions in English. However, I am manteniendo la calma; I don't know for how much longer. I have thought about stopping and making it mandatory for them to ask me questions, but I have doubts about this method as well. How much of class is directed in the target langauge?   

Teaching Grammar?

My other question concerns teaching grammar and providing instructions for projects.  I rarely teach grammar, but when I do mini lessons or give them "flipped" homework, they come to class with questions about the grammar. I struggle with should I stick in the target language or do I provide instructions in clear English? The problem with the former is that I think that it provides a heavier cognitive burden and now the brain has to work overtime to overcome a language barrier in order to get their question answered. I see so many blogs and people discussing 100% usage of the target language, but I am questioning its utility in some cases.

I had originally written this blog post after a rough day at school. I had a girl ditch class that day because she claimed she does not understand what I am saying. This was disheartening.  I had many students looking confused and I was just at my wit's end. I felt that there was something that I should be doing as a teacher to facilitate comprehension. I called my friend Sonja. She is a CI teacher from the Chicagoland area. She illuminated me. She gave me some real brass-tacks advice on how to use the target language appropriately in the class. One of the simple techniques she recommended was writing structures in addition to words in English on the board and then referring to them throughout the class in in the TL. I implemented the very next day in Spanish class to much success. 

What are some techniques you use to facilitate comprehension in the TL?

Give students a hand: scaffolding WL writing activities to lower filter and increase success!

Providing on-target scaffolding to promote student success

This week marked the apertura de clases at my school.   I was very excited to get to know the students. I had already prepared this "I want to know you activity" and these "Spice it up writing prompts" to thoroughly engage my upper level Spanish class. I just knew everything was going to flow so smoothly the first week right before we jump into the real learning;  I was wrong.

The first day as students started to introduce themselves and I probed them with extremely basic questions with the dual purpose of getting to know them and surmising their potential placement on the language continuum To my surprise, some upper level students students showed difficulty in responding to novice-low and mid questions. One student in particular, struggled to understand a very basic question such as ¿Tú trabajas?  I was baffled, even more so when he told me "Spanish 4 is like Spanish 1 all over again,"referring to the perceived  level of his classmates (some students are in the class because they want to improve their language level before going to AP; others  were not eligible for AP hence a negative outlook on their ability).  One thing was clear,  prior to giving the first fun writing activity, I had a lot of work to do.

Languishing Language Skills 

As I conferenced with students asking them about their summer, I noticed that many students had a uphill battle speaking the target language, using simple albeit accurate structures. The issue was pervasive.  This got me to thinking about the nature of input. When you think about input and learning a language, it is comparable to building a muscle; you use it or lose it. I then realized that many students inaugurating the school year:

  • Have been two and a half months removed from the language context
  • Their language skills atrophied over the summer 

Pass me another brick

In a sense, my student was correct. Students have returned to the embryonic stage of learning a language. I suspect that as the year progresses and they"ll start registering rich, and robust input and coincidentally; the language acquisition device in their minds will start to receive, perceive and reactive again. Until then, I have to proceed with caution and make sure my teaching is supportive, not presumptive and that for the next month or so I need to come along side them to pass them another brick and help them rebuild.

So back to the writing prompt 

Instead of giving them solely the writing prompt, which I'd use to collect soft data on their writing skills. I created the writing scaffolding practice below with the goal of:

  • Engaging students and lowering their affective filter
  • Allowing them to use each other as resources 
  • Helping them to identify their strengths and weaknesses so they can start mapping them out

The document reviews the basics of the present tense before they began writing. We spent about 20 minutes reviewing and working in pairs.  I have never felt a class be so calm. There was an uptick in participation (the first day they were understandably timid). The class was highly engaged and productive. 

I was glad I had done this because as I walked around I noticed students struggled with the present tense and ser/estar usage. We discussed it and they were allowed to use that along with a sheet I had compiled from online resources to guide their first writing. It was a great lesson!

Download the updated writing prompt and scaffolding activity here. 

Should we assign homework in the World Language Classroom?


Should we assign homework in the World Language Classroom? 

         The other day I had a very interesting conversation with another educator about the role of homework in the world language classroom.  Historically, I came from a project-based technology school where homework was next to nil. I had some issues with this policy, but soon adapted because, when in Rome, you do as the Romans do. However,  I am currently teaching at a new school and, well, the conversation resurfaced again. The questions driving (and underlying) our conversation, were:

  • When do we assign homework in a world language classroom?
  • Why do we give homework? 
  • What should that homework look like?
  • What is the purpose?

Standard-Based Homework

          My response to all questions centered was production-oriented more than anything.  I assumed "well you give homework to practice a skill." Additionally, if students did not complete work in class, then they should do it for homework. No brainer right?  This philosophy had satisfied at least in my initial attempts to process the questions.  However, my colleague camped out on the why and the what of assigning homework.  "  After some preliminary research on the matter, my colleague made me consider another rationale for extending learning beyond the four walls of the class: only give homework that connects with an authentic standard-based goal

Here are some examples we discussed as we will be teaching the same level course this year. For example: When learning about personal appearance during a lesson,  a typical homework assignment would be:

  • To write a list of personal characteristics may be in form of a graphic organizer 
  • Benefits: this is more personalized to the student  
  • Better than giving vocabulary words (I agree, they are isolated from the context) for definitions or verb practice unless it is within the context of this goal. Okay, tell me more! 

While I appreciate this approach and have used it to some extent- my novice-mid students had to annotate a text we were going to read the next day in class- part of me still thinks that reviewing flashcards on quizlet for vocabulary practice, and completing some cloze texts assignments are meaningful and help students in different ways. 

 I am also tempted to believe that some of those "shunned skill-based assignments" are in fact differentiation for some students' learning styles.  I have always seen homework as an opportunity to practice skills and class time spent synthesizing, speaking and engaging in problem-based activities.  I cannot even imagine a class without some type of skill-based homework (not all classes have to mimic this). 

The Research 

I enjoy reading a variety of perspectives on an issue before making a definite decision. The author of the article titled Homework v.s. No Homework  , which can be found on Edutopia, suggests that we are asking the wrong question altogether. The article posits that we should reframe our quest to explore what we believe students should be doing at the end of the school day. To this end two litmus-test questions should be asked: 
  • How will what we assign enable students to retain what they've learned?
  • How will the after-school activity prime or position them for learning the next day? 
      These questions definitely got me to thinking about the Flipped Classroom model and how it addresses the priming and positioning students for learning the very next day with using videos to reinforce concepts. 

 I love watching MJ's awesome videos in class. They are funny and instructive, but to free up more class time for PBL and Communicative-based approach, students could preview videos at home to prime their cognition for concepts to be explored the next day. I have used great resources like these mainly as a "during the learning process" type of assignment. What if I used this model to frontload learning?  

Furthermore, instead of just requiring students to watch the video and fill out verb conjugations- mindless work, I am planning on giving them "think-sheet" type notes that combine a host of vocabulary practice and critical thinking. Once I have a good template, I will attach to this post. This could potentially help students:

  • Retain whatever concept we are exploring (multiple multi-sensorial exposures)
  • Prime them for the next day. 
In planning some quality standards-based homework, I found these blogs extremely useful: Flipping the World Language Classroom and Flipping with Kirch.

 Okay, I'll admit, this meaningful word is thrown around quite a bit! Nonetheless, this next article was short, sweet and informative. Best of all, it was written from the perspective of a college student. He offered noteworthy guidelines to consider when assigning homework, but the best advice for my practice was considering: 

  • Time management, resources, and context 
  • Making Real World Connections 
1.  He emphasized that teachers need to remember that our class is not students' only class. We also have to be mindful of the context, students' lives and if the homework is compatible with their circumstances. It would be impossible to implement a Flipped Classroom when most students have little to no internet connection. This makes perfect sense. 

2. He was also passionate about the nature of Real World Connections. These assignments help to answers the students' biggest questions. The second one resonated with me the most. 

Last year, my novice-mid students had to complete a huge presentational sort of capstone at the end of the course. Students had to pitch a trip to Spain to a group of high school students. There was a prize, so they were fairly incentivized. You can see the free activity here in this post (It undergoes constantly revision and add-ons). For homework, I gave them graphic organizers of how to research basic information about their country- it is all included in the packet. Once in class they: 

  • Conferenced with me and gave me mini pitches about their region 
  • Collaborated in their group- I give them timetables 
These series of homework assignments were just a natural part of the assignment. However, they also had traditional homework with practicing vocabulary, reading  reading, vocabulary and verb activities.  I found these activities useful to what they were doing. 

How can I make this type of homework meaningful? 

This is my personal quest to create a menu of assignments that integrate these core components. Then again, I may not have to do it myself. Check out what other teachers are doing. This Real World Assignment posted by La profesora Frida. It sheds light on the question in part as the assignment allows students to interact with language in a very natural way. This assignment can be modified for students who are not privy to technology, but it is a great start and granito a la conversación

 I am still seeking clarity on this debate about homework in the language class, what is its place, purpose, and priority?   I will update this post periodically with ideas, resources,  insights and of course more research!

Your thoughts? What assignments do you give as homework? 

Resources and ideas for Real World Homework 

Students could also look on their TV guides and jot down several programs with Spanish Titles

Identity Collage- student write 20 characteristics that make them unique prior to building their collage in class 

Country Project by Señora Cruz- students use graphic organizers to complete information about their country.