Turn your students into 007 Agents with Agentes Secretos by Mira Canion

Agentes Secretos

Agentes Secretos by Mira Canon (see it on Amazon) is one of my favorite CI novels of all time. I started teaching this novel while teaching a phase 3 Spanish course at an IB school. After the second go around, I was hooked. 

Now that I am working at a different school with slightly older students, I was compelled to take a fresh look at the teaching possibilities with this TPRS classic. I changed a few ways in which I had approached the novel. Instead of the usual run of the mill, get into to groups, make predictions, highlight cognates and so forth (these are good pre-reading/ building excitement exercises), I wanted to bring in the novel with a bang!

My opportunity to do this was sort of forced upon me. My observation/ evaluation coincided with the start to this unit. A side note about being observed; for some strange reason, the pressure of an observation always brings out the more creative/innovative aspect of my teaching. At any measure, if I wanted to wow and by default get a good,-I am teacher worth her salt rating, I knew I had to bring my A-Game! The following activities are a result of my dusting off and polishing an old strategy. 

Music please!

As my students and boss entered the room during the first day of my unit, they were met by the ambiance of Secret Agent Man (all these years I thought it said something else!).  Not only was the music saturating the atmosphere, but I had made the classroom into a gallery of secret agent themed paraphernalia that would represent the book.  Students were given the instructions to walk about, not to talk and make a note of every thing they saw. 

We have parliamentary styled seating so as students walked through the long columns of 
student desks they viewed pictures, products and gadgets making list of them in their notebooks. Below is a list of several items used:

Mission #1
  1. Picture of James Bond 
  2. Picture of special suitcase 
  3. Glasses 
  4. Spy watch 
  5. Binoculars 
 I printed pictures from the internet in color and then placed them in plastic sleeves. Students were not allowed to speak during this activity but had to walk around, observe, list to the musical trope and jot down what they saw. They loved it! This was their first mission. 

Mission # 2

If you implement this activity, just choose items you think would fit with the theme. Afterward the initial silent gallery walk, students had a chance to go back to their seats, look up words and share with the class and complete this short assessment activity While looking up the word I emphasized making sure they included both the definite and indefinite article. This lesson is always needed no matter what the level! 

Mission # 3

 On my iPhone, I had also created an Agentes Secretos Playlist. Secret Agent Man, Skyfall by Adele and theme music for Mission Impossible filled the class during these types of activities. 

Priming Activity

Rigor, Rigor, and Rigor. In the past few years, this five lettered word has been drilled into us as educators. One of my favorite activities is this cognitive priming activity where students get a list of discussion questions, which may be input +2 at first, but through modeling and conversation, it becomes challenging but doable.  

The first thing I do is the take one of the questions, have them lean on their prior knowledge and then I model how to respond to the question using circumlocution. The results were amazing. The discussion was rich and robust. The students got a lot from this activity, they definitely felt the stretch. My principal loved it as well.  Download discussion questions by clicking here the Discussion questions for engaging in Agentes Secretos.  Check out the protocol and sample questions below. 

Protocol for this activity

One of the tasks I found extremely useful this time around teaching Agentes Secretos is engaging students in thinking about espionage. After the music, secret agent gallery, I gave students the discussion questions for engaging in Agentes Secretos. 

1. They do in groups in discuss the questions and how to respond. 
2. They maximize their limited vocabulary by responding to questions with as much vocabulary and thought as possible. 

  1. ¿Qué es un agente secreto?  ¿Qué hace un agente secreto? 
  2. Menciona una organizaciÛn secreta en los Estados Unidos (U.S.)
  3. ¿Cómo debe ser la personalidad o perfile de un agente secreto? 
For the first question, students would use very basic vocabulary such as: 

Un agente secreto es una persona que trabaja en una organización secreta..

or they could put their own twist on this. For the question about the typical profile and gender, students really had a lot to say. The circumlocution was the highest because they were so impassioned to speak. 

Death to Franco

Okay, I did not tell them Death to Franco, but this headliner activity was truly revealing. It allowed me to assess their prior knowledge, productive vocabulary output while allowing them to use logos and pathos in unprecedented ways at the novice level. 

Comprehensible Article on Franco and Pablo Picasso (Guernica)

Here is how it all went down (this was the second or third day). 

  • First, we read the first chapter of Agente Secretos (see it on Amazon)
  • We discussed the characters and, well, Franco stood out. 
  • Students made predictions about who he was based on the text. 
  • Students voted on if they’d side with him or not based on what they learned in the first chapter (I had a few Franquistas here- it was troubling at first). 
  • Then I gave them a short contextualized activity on Franco (re-editing phase will be posted soon). For this activity learned basic tenets about Franco, practiced Ser and Estar in addition toother vocabulary  that would surface again in the book. 

After the short contextualized activity on Franco activity, we came back to the question about Franco and they were stunned. 

But I could not leave it there. I wanted to capture this emotion so I had them put themselves in the shoes of a journalist during the Spanish Civil War. The "
Eres un periodista en España" activity encouraged them to do perspective taking byassuming role
e of a periodista from the times of Franco. They had to create a headline for Franco based on what they had read. To be fair, they could choose either side; and they did. There was good debate to say the least.  Again, they used very simple terms but powerful.  Here are some examples (I will  scan and get the originals): 

Novice Semester II Spanish I students:

Franco mata a las personas de España. 

El Nuevo Hitler 

El Dictador Cruel

There were plenty of headliners that really surprised me. 

Stay tuned for more ideas for implementing this unit!

                            Novels for Spanish Class!

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

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6 ways to privilege input with your Spanish 1 students- reading, incidental vocabulary y más!

How to get students talking in the target language the first day of class: A new twist on a routine strategy. 

The first week of school is always exiting for freshmen students, especially those who have not taken a Spanish as a second language. From the very first day, I encourage students to speak only in the target language. Like most teachers, I start my stating my name in the language as a model and then asking by them to state theirs. We go around until we get the hang of it. 

During the first week, I usually engage students in this About Me activity, which is all in the target language.  The activity is loaded with simple at a glance cognates that really require no front loading.  It is also a great activity for ESL students who would benefit from compound words and Latin roots. 

New! Listening Activity related to this resource!

Output Rich Activity play by play 

1. First, students look a list of words, mostly cognates but some, such as película are not as familiar. 

2. The most important thing is that students cannot use a dictionary!  This helps them engage in incidental learning. Students read over the cognate vocabulary words and decide what they mean. 

3. They complete a short-warm up cloze text activity that gives them a sneak peak into the meaning of most words. 

4. Here is the kicker- they read a simple interview about a Spanish girl who discusses her interests. Her interview contextualizes most of the vocabulary. 

From the basic answers she provides to the questions,  students then glean the meaning of the words. Also, don't worry about overloading them.  The questions and answers are really simple. Teachers use the method of circling to recycle vocabulary and emergent structures.  

5.  After reading the interview, students use it as a guide to complete their own questions. These questions and vocabulary words are provided in this About Me activity demo.  

5. The questions are split into two section and students engage in a paired interpersonal activity after reading. 

6. Complete a compare and contrast activity using their information and that of the girl interviewed. 

This activity could be great for engaging students in inquiry, allowing them to learn basic vocabulary, cognates, interrogative words, sentence structure without a formal lesson!  

Some modeling suggestions

       To maximize and optimize input, teachers could also consider answering the questions for themselves prior to the interview. Research indicates that it it takes interacting with a word 20 times before it becomes a part of our lexicon, so answering the questions before hand gives them additional experience with the word. I usually answer the questions for myself to give them an example of how it's done. For example, the question: Cuál es tu programa favorito, I'd respond by saying  mi programa favorito es el Internado. Then I'd ask them cuál es mi programa favorito. This sets up the stage for me to then ask them their favorite program.  After going over my questions and asking a few students, they can work on the Interview.  I try to get as much bang as possible out of this buck. 

I like to move it, move it!
After students have finished their activity (I have moved around class to make sure we are all on board), I have them engage in a little speed-dating activity, also included in the About Me activity document.  This takes about 5-10 minutes of class time. They move around and interview one person or they could get into pairs. They begin by  asking them one (or 7) of the questions. At this point they would also be practicing simple greetings such as hello, how are you, what is your name, goodbye, etc. 

Not done yet!
After this activity students are of course excited to share about their one person. After this I ask for a few volunteers to sit in the Hot Seat. Various students in the class asks them the same questions from the list.  My the end of the period the students have acquired new vocabulary, incidentally learned something about the structure of the language,  heard key words several times in addition to being introduced to their year-long roommates! 

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Check out my TPT Store activities, informational historical texts, and video activities for class 

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El Internado- Using Spanish-language Series in class to increase input and creative output

El Internado Series is available on Netflix

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

The Internado is back on Netflix!!!!

       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.

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 o 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 son 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 prepares 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 students 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!

Looking to add El Internado into your curriculum longterm? Check out Mike's work around the episodes and themes; it is exhaustive!

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 enhance the quality) the vocabulary lists, expressions list, PPT and dynamic Chat Stations that revolutionize my class and my relationship with my students.

Resilience and perservance- Gianfranco Conti- Let them struggle!

Are you fostering a growth mindset in your class? 

The article that I reposted below with permission from the author (Conti)  is a critical piece so central to teaching language. Our goal last year i our department and school was helping students to develop a growth mindset, which in our school context meant allowing students to make mistakes, growth from them as well as other  re- other mind-expanding practices. Being a growth mindset type of gal, I did not have to change much... so I thought...until I read the article below. It opened my mind to a different way of viewing and designing a thinking class.

 Last semester I had an Aha moment when I noticed being in situations where my upper level students wanted me to, what Conti calls below " spoon-feed" them. At some point they had become vegetables in their own learning process and I was there "intravenously" supplying them with all their nutrients. Then it hit me. How am I helping them to grow if I continue to pump knowledge into them? How will they be self-sufficient in the class and beyond?  I did not quite know what the sickness was until I read the symptoms of the text below. It was my M.O, and I had no idea (although kudos to me for knowing something wasn't right).  They did not want to struggle, but the needed to.   The article below helped me rethink my instruction and engagement for this year. I will be stepping back more and allowing them to struggle, fail forward and harness a growth mindset shift.

Resilience and perseverance in the foreign language classroom – Inhibitors and catalysts

Please note: this post was written in collaboration with my colleagues Dylan Viñales andLouise Miller as part of the Garden International School PLA’s (personal reflection afternoons) 
Academic resilience is defined as the ability to effectively deal with setback, stress or pressure in the academic setting. Resilience is related to the notion of Perseverance, the persistence in a course of action; the ability, that is, to stay on course despite adversities. These are two of the core generic life-long learning skills that many educators rightly posit as fundamental for academic success, across all subject areas, including languages. Yet, in my experience, as I will argue below, a lot of the language teaching carried out in many MFL classrooms works against the development of these pivotal skills. Why?
The main reason is the spoon-feeding that a lot of MFL teachers do in their classrooms, afraid as they are that their  students might get bored or lose motivation. Lots of modelling, lots of scaffolding, lots of support material, lots of word-lists, lots of praise, lots of rewards. What about developing learner resourcefulness, one of the most important attributes of a resilient autonomous language learner?
Another reason is the over-‘gamification’ of language learning. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for games and ludic activities in MFL learning, but there is a marked tendency, in many settings, to gamify everything, to make every learning activity into a game. This has the danger of creating a perception of the MFL classroom as a place to go to in order to have fun and play games; of language learning as a ‘playful’ less ‘serious’ or less ‘academic’ subject.
And what about the over ‘cartoonization’ of language learning? The overuse of cliparts, cartoons and animations in the illustration of the target language items on posters, PPTs, websites, iMovies, etc.? This, in my view, does contribute to a small extent in terms of engagement, but much more so serves as a distraction, thus often ending up hindering learning.
Finally, the misuse of emerging technologies by some MFL practitioners has made things worse in a number of important respects. Firstly, the use of apps like Tellagami, Yakit kids, Chatterpix which are basically the digital version of old school colouring and drawing on paper, with juvenile voice-over; more acceptable for some teachers because associated with the digitally-assisted-learning hype. Secondly, the overuse of websites which not only gamify learning but also, in our opinion, tragically unambitiously focus on the ‘easy’ bits of language learning: word level learning (e.g. www.linguascope.com). Thirdly, the general focus on the ‘wow’ effect that a lot of digitally assisted learning involves in order to grab student attention; such an approach, when overdone, does create wow-dependent engagement that is too ephemeral to result in a strong life-long learning ethos.
Getting our learners used to this kind of spoon-fed, ludic, gamified, fun, wow-mongering type of learning since a very early age can result in creating a generation of overly reliant language learners who lack the two very skills this post is about, perseverance and resilience, for the obvious reason that these skills do need to be practised in order to be learned. In order to learn to stay on task in the face of adversities one has to practise overcoming obstacles, such as boredom, task complexity, mistakes, cognitive deficits and failure in general.
Therefore, exposing our learners to the boring, dull and ‘painful’ aspects of language learning becomes a must; and it is our duty as teachers to equip students with the metacognitive, cognitive and affective strategies which will help them cope.
Hence, from the very early days instruction ought to include:
  1. Inductive learning;
  2. Challenge and risk-taking in a safe and non-judgmental environment (see point 6, below)
  3. Activities fostering autonomy and resourcefulness;
  4. Awareness-raising of the rationale for each learning activity – especially the boring and dull ones; that is, how it can enhance learning;
  5. Praise for each observed instance of resilience and perseverance;
  6. A positive attitude to error-making – students must be made to accept error as a necessary and valuable by-product of learning which propels language acquisition further; not something to be afraid of. A lot of care must be taken in order to ensure that corrections are perceived by the students as non-judgmental as possible
  7. Self-efficacy enhancement (see my post on self-efficacy for this) – teachers must develop ways to heighten their learners’ expectancy of success, i.e. their sense of being able to succeed at specific language tasks and at MFL learning in general.
  8. Cognitive and affective coaching by the teacher– students must feel that their teacher is going to support them every step of the way should they get ‘stuck’; not by doing the work for them, of course, but by pointing them in the right direction through effective questioning and/or cueing;
  9. Role-modelling – research on resilience shows the importance of the input of ‘charismatic adults’ in developing young learner resilience. If the teacher or other adult in the classroom is perceived as a resilient and tenacious individual, this may inspire their student to follow in their footsteps. Older students, too, may serve as role-models if the target pupils can identify with them across a range of attributes (e.g. gender, age, sub-culture, ability range. family circumstances, etc.); the fact that someone perceived as similar to them was successful, may enhance their perseverance and resilience.
  10. The establishment of a culture of empathy and mutual respect and support in the classroom, so that when students do make mistakes or experience setbacks, they will have empathetic peers who will provide affective scaffolding.
  11. Affective strategies modelling – strategies like inner talk or self-relaxing techniques can be modelled to the students through think-aloud techniques or videos to help them enhance their coping skill. Modelling the use of motivational quotes (like the ones that you will have posted on your classroom walls) as a strategy to ‘push’ oneself forward when feeling down can be of a great help, too.
  12. Last but not least: some ‘boring’ activities (e.g. old-fashioned translation, verb drills and conjugations), provided that the students are told why they are important and relevant to their learning.
In conclusion, MFL language learning (in the classroom) should be an enjoyable and stimulating experience. However, if we do want to forge perseverant and resilient learners we must be mindful of the effect of overly spoon-feeding and entertaining them with games, wow-inducing app-smashing and other gimmicks which encourage a misconception of what language learning is really about. In order to become resilient our students must be made aware of and experience the challenges and inevitable setbacks that language learning entails whilst feeling part of a safe, supportive and empathetic learning environment where errors are tolerated or even encouraged.

11 Activities for teaching reflexive verbs- hitting all the modes!

With a little scaffolding, Spanish 1 intermediate learners are able to grasp big concepts in basic language.

This was the truth I discovered towards the end of the semester. I used this text La vida sana and its accompanying activities with my Spanish I students at the end of the year, this could also be used with Spanish 2 as well.  They thoroughly loved the challenged of being able to digest a text of this caliber in Spanish. Honestly, I purposely chock full the text with familiar cognates and structures with which we are used to in English such as "En este caso."

We have block periods in my school so I did this over 1.5 blocks with adds up to 135 minutes.

Here is how it all went down!
Priming those brains
I did the pre-reading activities first, the vocabulary matching, looking up verbs and then using then in cloze-text sentences. This gave them confidence in approaching the text.

Group talk: Next students got into groups of 3 and responded to the task cards. Each student had to respond.

Partner up: They partnered up and read the text to each other and then took notes. This part was particularly interestingly because I heard some students arguing over what was an important notation versus what's not. It was a very spirited discussion.

Spit it out: They then generated questions- this is also outlined below. You can also click  Amy Lenord's Conversation Circle below for a more direct instructions on how to implement this in your class. As a language coach she has some very good rubrics and structures for keeping students in the target language. I highly recommend checking our her stuff.

Amy Lenord Conversation Circle

I modified this slightly, at least from my understanding of how to use it.  I had students write down 3-4 people from the other side of the room or in the class to ask. This facilitated the conversation better and there was less drag and they seemed to be more into it. They do get excited so I have to develop some traffic control signals, but all in all it's very fun.

Poker face: For homework they had to read and annotate the article again. I told them they were going to have a reading comprehension test and would not be able to use the notes- and I did it. Test with no notes. They did pretty well.

The very next class they completed the reading comprehension and then the writing task. I have a very simplified rubric for what I was looking for, it is also included in the 15-page  packet.

The suite includes: 

 Click here to get the text with activities outline below: La vida sana

1. La vida es Sana text- article about Teen sleeping habits affect them in a number of ways.

2. Pre-reading activities such as vocabulary matching, verb definition and cloze-text activity with the goal of making the text more approachable and comprehensible.

3. 8 Task cards regarding the habits of Teens (pre-reading).

4. Note-taking document- yes, my Spanish 1 students had to read and take notes just like they do in English class! I had them work together on this. It was really fun and they were proud of themselves at the end.

5. The notes include a space where they have to come up with basic, intermediate and advanced questions. We did this when I taught in an IB school and it works well especially in getting them to ask good questions. I had to do a mini lesson on the difference, but I included the question stem-types.

6. We use the questions for a whole class conversation or Amy's conversation circle. They ask the questions and I sit back and grade. More information on Conversation Circle can be found on Pinterest.

7. Post comprehension questions (I usually give this as an assessment)

8. Writing prompt- Since this unit is done in conjugation with learning about reflexives, they complete a writing sample at the end.

I used this activity to assess the interpersonal mode (conversation circle) and the interpretive mode (reading and comprehension)