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!

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