How to Plan a World Language Lip Sync Night at Your School

Tuesday, March 21, 2017 / 1 comment

Looking to spice up your World Language Department?  
Organize a World Language Lip Sync Night!  
Here's a quick overview of how it works.  The whole department works together to create a night of music, dance, and entertainment in French, Spanish, German, and 
whatever other World Languages your school offers.  
(If you are a department of one, hang on, I have suggestions for you, too.)

Each junior and senior class (or just seniors if you have a huge school), picks a song, combines movement and props to go with it, and presents it on stage.  Freshmen and sophomores are encouraged to attend with free homework passes.  
Most of them secretly want to attend anyway, but a free homework pass never hurts.      

The older students have a blast performing songs in the target language and the younger students love watching the older students having such a good time on stage.

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How to Start Collaborating with Spanish Teachers on Social Media

Tuesday, March 14, 2017 / 2 comments

In last week's post, Jen talked about the power of social media for finding authentic resources. This week, we continue the social media discussion by talking about how to get online collaborations with other Spanish teachers started.

My Experience

Over the past three years or so, I've slowly joined a number of Spanish teacher online professional learning communities on sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Facebook and Instagram are going strong, but my Twitter is pretty sad. I have maybe 5 tweets. Follow me and maybe you guys can inspire me to get on this platform more - I see huge potential!

By connecting with Spanish teachers on social media, I am amazed at the simple, and meaningful interactions that I have with teachers from all over. I stretch my own thinking about what good language learning looks like. I learn about authentic resources, project ideas, and different instructional approaches. Just one example was learning about that awesome Soy Yo music video when someone mentioned it in a Facebook group the day after the video came out. Also, I am able to share my own stories and ideas, so I feel like I'm helping other teachers too. This connection has become a daily thing for me. I just love it.

Why Bother?

We've all heard about the importance of sustained professional development (PD) within the teaching profession. Central to good PD is building your Professional Learning Communities or Networks (PLCs and PLNs). Forgive all the acronyms... but what teacher doesn't love a few?!

Good PD with your PLC/PLN is a great way to keep our ideas fresh, our classrooms effective, while helping to reduce teacher burn out. Finding a PLC/PLN on social media has the added benefit that your learning is 100% optional and totally self directed. There's no principal forcing you to attend the PLC meeting! You choose when to login and how much to contribute. You also can stay relatively anonymous online. Ask any and all questions in a "judgement free zone," where Spanish teacher peers will be happy to provide you feedback, without any pressure or local school politics involved.

Better still, online PD even aligns with the ISTE standards for teachers. By participating in online communities, teachers stand to construct knowledge together in virtual environments (ISTE Standard 1), maybe even becoming virtual teacher leaders, who contribute to the effectiveness and renewal of the teaching profession (ISTE Standard 5). Look at how amazing you could be!

Where to Start?

Step 1. Identify what social media platform is best for you.

No one has time to jump on every platform out there. The top three for teachers seem to be Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. To pick which of these platforms is best for you, ask yourself:

  • Which platform do you already use in your daily life? 
  • Which platform seems easiest to navigate for you? 
  • Which platform do your local Spanish teacher colleagues use? They may be a great resource as you are getting started.
  • Do you prefer visuals? Go with Instagram!
  • Do you want to be able to search easily through archived discussions? Do you want your discussions to be private? Go with Facebook groups!
  • Do you want a diverse, large community and open access? Go with Twitter!

Note: You might want to use your own personal account (I do this for the private Facebook groups that I'm a part of - since they are not publicly viewable), or create a new "professional account" (I do this for Instagram and Twitter - since they are public).

Step 2. Figure out who to follow.

For Instagram and Twitter: You can always start by following the 10 of us Secondary Spanish Space teacher bloggers. On our About Us page, there are clickable links to each of our social media accounts. Also, check out Spanish Plan's Instagram post and Sra Cruz's Instagram post for a list of popular Spanish teacher related Instagram accounts and hash tags that may be useful. Carolina at Fun for Spanish Teachers provides a list for Facebook and Pinterest, too.

Once you follow a few Spanish teachers, find more connections by "stealing" from the list of people they follow.

I also suggest searching for new people by using hashtags.

Popular Spanish Teacher Instagram Hashtags:

Popular Spanish Teacher Twitter Hashtags:

For Facebook: It works a little differently. You'll want to join closed (private) Facebook groups, where Spanish teachers work together. You can search Facebook for "groups," using key words like "Spanish teacher(s)". I really enjoy these groups:

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How Find Authentic Resources on Social Media: #AuthRes

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 / Leave a Comment

Hi! I'm Jen from the blog Spanish with Sra. Shaw.  By far the most popular of my blog posts has been a 6-part series about how IPAs (Integrated Performance Assessments) transformed my classroom. As more districts move toward proficiency-based curricula, IPAs seem to be an ever-increasing topic of discussion and a source of frustration for teachers as they begin to create these uniquely-styled assessments, which is why I wanted to help. 

I initially set out out to write the IPA blog posts to support my colleagues as they began using these assessments in their classrooms. Specifically, I wrote about the background of IPAs and made suggestions on how to create, manage, and break down each of the 3 performance tasks (interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational) with the hope of clarifying each task and giving examples that would help teachers to envision activities that would fit their units. 

The response from readers and fellow teachers was much different than I expected. First, I was surprised that anyone on earth would want to read my blog at all.  I had anticipated perhaps some questions about the interpersonal task, which people seem to find to be the most challenging. However,  what I found instead was that people wanted to know more about where to find authentic resources to create the interpretive task. I've found this as this seems to be a major stumbling block for teachers implementing IPAs, which is why I'm writing this post.

If you've ever looked for the perfect video, photo, or audio clip, you understand. I do not exaggerate when I say I've spent entire days (honestly, perhaps weeks) of my life looking for the perfect authentic resource.  It's so incredibly easy to fall into a black hole scouring the internet for just the right video clip because you can just keep looking, and looking, and looking. Also, it doesn't help that I'm a perfectionist about authentic resources because I insist they are 100% authentic and were created by a native speaker for a native audience. If not, I won't use it. I actually could write an entire blog post about how to choose an appropriate authentic resource, but that's another topic for a different day and the amazing Julie from Mundo de Pepita has already written a really helpful post about it here.

Who wants to waste valuable time looking for authentic resources? Today I'm here to share some tips to help you find the perfect resource quickly and efficiently.


Tip #1: Search in the Target Language (TL) 

 If you haven't tried searching for  an authentic resource in the target language, make this your first priority. If you search in English, you'll mostly find other WL teachers' suggestions of resources, which may or not be authentic.  More often than not, I've found it's not what I'm looking for and that they are often teacher-created AKA not authentic.

Example: You search "school schedule Spanish." You'll mostly come up with schedules fabricated by Spanish teachers, students, and maybe a few truly authentic texts. However, if you change your search term to "horario de clases," almost everything you find will be authentic. 

This works for every form of social media and internet search. I've had lots of luck on Google and especially on YouTube. It's shocking up much great stuff I can come up with on YouTube searching in the TL.


Tip #2: Go Where Your Search Leads You

 Sometimes, I've found I have a tendency to force a search and look for something that doesn't even exist. However, I've found if you can search in the TL, you might be surprised where that will take you and that your first search might lead you down a much better path than the one you were originally on.

For example, I recently redid an IPA for a school unit. I started out on YouTube with the search term "Mi Colegio." I found some decent hits, but nothing I'd want to use as my resource and some non-authentic items. When I clicked to watch a video that looked like it might be worthwhile, I found that I didn't like it, but that the suggested/related videos along the right hand side were a jackpot. There were literally dozens of videos that I wouldn't have otherwise found because I don't know exactly the exact terminology a native speaker will use to title a video.

For example, check out the this YouTube video,  which may or may not be worth looking at, but more importantly explore the "good" and "bad" authentic resource suggestions along the right hand side. You'll notice some are actually created by Spanish teachers (yuck), but that there are some helpful leads to refine your search based on the video titles created by native speakers. 

So, in summary, start out with a basic TL search and look for even better search terms from a native speaker and refine your search accordingly.  I've got a ton of authentic resources pinned by unit on my Pinterest account and then I actually recently started an "AuthRes" board of cool things I find that don't currently fit in one of my units, but I want to save. Follow me on Pinterest and you'll be able to stalk out all of the resources I pin.


Tip #3: Pin your Authentic Resources 

 If you haven't discovered Pinterest yet, you need to. It's incredible. It's where I save and organize all of the ideas and random resources that I know I want to use, but don't have time to deal with at the moment.  I love that it keeps me organized and inspired and I consider it one of my favorite forms of social media professional development (although read on about my newfound PD love of Twitter).

Now, how can Pinterest help you find authentic resources? It's tricky because honestly Pinterest has a TON of non-authentic material created by non-native speakers and it's hard to filter through. I recently discovered a  Pinterest trend, however, that has helped me find some ideal authentic resources in almost no time at all. #yayefficiency!

In December, I couldn't find any intriguing videos for the school unit I discussed above in Tip #2, but once I started pinning some decent or even just O.K. YouTube videos, Pinterest started making some amazing recommendations.  Based on the videos I pinned, the Pinterest algorithims started sending me all kinds of quality authentic resources! Some were related to my school unit and others were just really cool resources that I pinned for other units. Guess what happened when I then pinned those recommendations? Pinterest sent me even MORE authentic resources and a beautiful cycle began in which I pin something, I receive recommendations for related pins, I pin some more, and on and on it goes. It's beautiful. Gosh, I love Pinterest. 

If you'd like to follow me on Pinterest so you can see everything I'm pinning, here is my page. This is board where I've been pinning all of the authentic resources board (discussed above) and this is a collaborative Realia board from our very own Sherry. 
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Three Ideas to Make Any Lesson More Engaging

Tuesday, February 28, 2017 / Leave a Comment
I used to have a very grammar-based curriculum I had to teach. I had to teach students when to use 'personal a' in stand-alone sentences with no context. They had to learn the rules for how to know which nouns are masculine or feminine, and memorize common exceptions. They learned irregular preterite verb endings in one fell swoop.

It was sometimes painful.

When I had a lesson or topic coming up that bored even me (and I'm the teacher!), then I had a couple activities in my back pocket that will spice up any "write-this-down-and-memorize-it-because-it's-on-the-test" lesson.

Coloring Activities

I know, I know. You're thinking - coloring activities?! In HIGH SCHOOL?! Oh, yes. Coloring. In high school!

Coloring automatically makes anything more engaging, and it's also calming - even to the craziest of students or classes.

Once I taught my students the colors in Spanish, I could include colors in any (every) lesson after that.

If you are teaching new vocabulary, include a listening activity with colors vocabulary. When I taught clothing vocabulary, I gave each student a handout with the clothing items as outlines so they could color them in.

1.  I would then say "Los calcetines son anaranjados".
2.  Students had to find the calcetines on their handout and color them orange.
3.  Then I would go through 5-6 more clothing items and different colors and students would have to listen for what clothing item I was saying and color it the correct color.

This activity also works for school supplies vocabulary!

Foldable Activities

Foldable activities are great if you finish the lesson and then realize there are still 10 minutes of class left. This has happened to other people too, right?

Students love activities where they can manipulate the paper and the activity automatically becomes more interactive. This is also my favorite way to review verbs - forms of ir, all present tense -AR verbs, preterite irregular verbs... literally any type of verb.

1.  Pass out one sheet of blank copy paper to each student (steal borrow it from the copy room beforehand).
2.  Have students fold their paper into 8 boxes (fold once hot dog-style and then twice hamburger-style).
3.  Write a different subject pronoun in each box.
4.  Write a sentence with an irregular preterite verb in each box - each box must have a different verb in it!
5.  Draw a (pretty) picture to illustrate your sentence.
6.  I also pass out the colored pencils at this point because, again, I love coloring.

When I taught definite articles (completely out of context because my curriculum was super amazing like that), I would have students fold their paper into 4 boxes and write a definite article in each box, and then list nouns they knew that fell into each category and draw (pretty) pictures of those items. And then color.  Because coloring is THE BEST.


This activity takes much more prep ahead of time, but if you laminate things and store them safely for next year, then it's worth it. If you immediately throw everything out after the students are done and have to re-do it year after year, then you will curse yourself each year.


When I taught forms of the verb ser in the present tense, I would type up sentences, that would be cut into three parts for students to put back together. 

1.  Type up a sentence with each subject pronoun (yo soy alto, tú eres mi amigo, usted es de Colombia, nosotros somos inteligentes, etc). (I recommend using a large font size (20+) and adding extra spaces between words so cutting is easier later).
2.  Make enough copies for students to work in pairs.  This cuts the rest of your prep work in half.
3.  Laminate all papers so you don't hate yourself next year.  (Or skip this step and definitely curse yourself next year.)
4.  Cut each sentence into three parts - the subject pronoun, the verb, and the rest of the sentence.
5.  Put all sentence parts into a sandwich-size baggie.
6.  Pass out the baggies to students and have them work in pairs to recreate the sentences.
7.  If you are super amazing, then make two different sets of sentences (copy them on different colors of paper so you can easily tell which is Set 1 and which is Set 2) and have pairs of students switch sets when they finish theirs correctly.
8.  You can also have students write their sentences down in notebooks or on paper you'll collect later.
9.  Plan to definitely have a discussion with the class as to why "usted es mi amigo" is grammatically correct, but not the best sentence.

I hope these ideas help if you also have lessons that you dread teaching each year because they are SO BORING.  Please share if you have other ideas for activities that can be used across multiple topics to spice things up and engage students!

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Teaching a Novel 101

Tuesday, February 21, 2017 / 2 comments

Teaching a Novel 101

The idea of teaching your first novel in Spanish class can be pretty scary. It was a big change of mentality from the textbook and thematic units I used my first two years teaching. During the 2013-2014 school year, I wrote and was awarded three separate grants to buy books in Spanish for my Classroom Library and multiple full class sets of novels. (If you want to know more about writing grants see here).  In the fall of 2014 I started using novels as the center of my comprehensible input classroom curriculum, and have done so ever since. I do not claim to be an expert, but since the majority of what I do revolves around novels I have a ton of posts labeled novels on Mis Clases Locas if you have some time to dig. Since you are busy people, I will try to put everything together here for how to teach a novel in Spanish class 101. 

Step 1 - Research 

If you are interested in teaching with novels, the first thing to do is read as many as you can get your hands on to see what would interest your students. Check out Fluency MattersMira CanionSpanish CuentosTPRS Books, One Good Story, and other independent publishers of novels for language learners. Many of these publishers have sample packs of books that can be purchased, or sample chapters to read before you buy. Bryce Hedstrom's ranking the novels, while a few years old, gives an idea of difficulty for some popular novels. Finally check out Mike Peto's CIreading site , which puts together hard to find independently published novels for language learners. 

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5 Target Finds for Your Spanish Classroom

Tuesday, February 14, 2017 / 4 comments

I am addicted to Target. There. I said it. Man, that feels good to get off my chest! There is something about strolling up and down the aisles, pushing a red cart and sipping a Starbucks mocha, that I find relaxing. Every once in a while I come across something for my Spanish classroom and think, "Aha!". Here are five of my favorites finds.
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Valentine's Day in Your Spanish Classes- What's Not to Love?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 / Leave a Comment

Ways to celebrate Valentine's Day in your Spanish classes without losing learning time.

Thinking of celebrating el Día de los Enamorados / El Día de San Valentín in your Spanish classes but concerned you'll be losing precious time away from your curriculum to do it?  I used to be the teacher who would roll my eyes when I heard other Spanish teachers were celebrating Valentine's Day with their classes- until I realized that it actually doesn't mean sacrificing meaningful learning time with students!

There are so many fun activities that can be done on Valentine's Day that can enhance your lessons, not detract from them.  Here are a few fun ideas!  You could devote an entire class period (or several) to Valentine's Day themed lessons.  However, if you truly don't feel you have the time to devote an entire period to the holiday of love, consider choosing several activities as Brain Breaks, Class Starters, Wrap Up activities or Fast Finisher activities!

I hope these activities spark your imagination!  
See the links at the end for even more ideas!
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5 Ways to Avoid Language Plateau in the Classroom

Tuesday, January 31, 2017 / Leave a Comment

What happened?  Your students were doing so well and you were feeling like the amazing Spanish teacher that you are, when suddenly, they start to regress!  Whoa… what’s going on?  They knew this stuff just yesterday!  Well, relax.  It’s completely normal for your students to move forward and back, and forward and back again as they increase toward more advanced levels of the language.  This regression may seem discouraging, but take heart!  Although students regress frequently, the general movement is f-o-r-w-a-r-d! 
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Taking Spanish Students Abroad without a Tour Company?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 / 2 comments

Planning on or wanting to take your Spanish students abroad? No doubt this can ignite both fear and excitement. It’s perhaps most common to use one of many tour companies, but would you consider breaking out of the box and planning a trip abroad on your own? I was wrestling with this question a few years ago and ultimately decided to go against the norm to plan a trip on my own. You can read all about that service based trip to Peru here. My middle and highschoolers did participate in tours while in Peru, but I did the work of piecing the plan together and scheduling everything from flights, hotels, transportation, service projects, meals, and those tours.
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What to Do with Spanish Club 20 Fun Ideas

Tuesday, January 17, 2017 / 4 comments

In my time spent teaching Spanish at a large public high school in Arizona, some of my very best teaching moments actually occurred outside of the classroom with my Spanish Club or Spanish Honor Society students. 

Why are school clubs great for student learning? 

Students choose to be there! The learning was informal! Often the only “test” at the end was how well students were able to communicate in Spanish in real life scenarios. The learning was meaningful, practical, and relevant to their lives and interests! 

Here’s a big list of some of my favorite, student-tested and teacher-approved Spanish club activities:

1. Throw a Spanish language movie night. 

After school on a few Fridays throughout the year, we move out the desks in my classroom, spread out blankets, and watch a Spanish-language film. I pop some popcorn, students bring their own drinks, and we run the movie off my overhead projector. Some student favorites that are school appropriate include No se acceptan devoluciones and Debajo la misma luna.

2. Support an international humanitarian campaign. 

Our club adopted a child in Mexico, to sponsor his schooling, through Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos. Students wrote and sent Spanish language letters to him and loved receiving correspondence back from him. Other Spanish teachers have loved Heifer Project and Ayuda Humanitaria para Venezuela.

3. Volunteer with your Spanish-speaking community. 

We volunteered several times a year at our local St. Vincent de Paul’s evening meal program, where my students helped to prepare and serve dinner to Spanish-speaking patrons. They also ran simple craft activities with the children, and practiced lots of Spanish while doing this.

4. Host a salsa dance party or lesson. 

I’ve enlisted our school’s dance teacher to lead a 30 minute lesson in our school's gorgeous dance classroom. Students learn some basic steps and then get to dance for the last 30 minutes. Consider inviting just club students, or club students and a guest, or even the whole school.

5. Take a field trip to a local museum or event related to Spanish culture. 

I took my students to a Frida Kahlo exhibit at our art museum and we also attended a local production of Don Quijote.

6. Design club t-shirts. 

I love enlisting an artistic student or two to design club shirts each year. There are also some really cute pre-made designs out there, many are on my Pinterest Spanish Club board.

7. Travel abroad together. 

Getting students out of their comfort zones and enabling them to see the world is one of the most impactful things you can do for young kids. People love EF tours and Worldstrides for setting up group student trips to Spain or Latin America. Our very own Jessica of Miss Señorita blogs about taking students abroad, sharing her tips and experience with this. I also love fellow secondary Spanish teacher Holly's Tips for Traveling Abroad with Students.

8. Host the Pulsera Project. 

I've brought Pulsera Project to our school for several years running, with great success. They ship you a bunch of homemade pulseras, from artisans in Nicaragua. Your students sell them and the money goes directly to support local business and development in Nicaragua. I love that they send a bunch of learning materials IN SPANISH, so students can not only sell the bracelets, but learn about Nicaragua in the target language. Yuda Bands is a similar project. 

9. Host a school-wide jalapeño eating contest. 

We’ve done this for a few years running, with lots of participation and interest. Club members are in charge of advertising, marketing, and running the contest. I use club funds to pick up a ton of jalapeños and lots of milk. We host rounds of 5 students at a time, who eat as many jalapeños as they can in a minute. Winners get a small prize, a certificate, and lots of glory.

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5 Fresh Ideas for the New Year in Spanish Class

Tuesday, January 10, 2017 / Leave a Comment

A new year offers new opportunities in your Spanish classroom 
(but really you can incorporate these ideas anytime).

Just like I go through my house and get rid of stuff that I don't need or love, I like to bring this same philosophy to my class in the new year.  You're almost halfway through the school year so take a look at what's working and what's not working and change things up.
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5-Minute Brain Breaks for the World Language Classroom

Tuesday, January 3, 2017 / 2 comments
Surely I'm not the only teacher who has doggedly plowed ahead in a lesson, determined to squeeze in every second of teaching/input/ practice I possibly can, ignoring the fact that my students' eyes are totally glazed over.

Time is a huge factor in the language classroom. Even more important is quality time with our students. Fifty minutes of focused students is better than fifty-five minutes of tired students, and a quick brain break can make that less-is-more difference. Even my very motivated students need a regular break to regroup and then get back to work!

So what makes a good brain break for the language classroom? I think the good ones:

  • are quick and easy to explain
  • get every student moving (and out of their seats, ideally)
  • can take place in the TL without being stressful
  • are fun (and collaborative, if possible)

Here are my favorites I've collected over the past few years! All examples are in English, just in case any non-Spanish teacher are looking for ideas as well.

1. Find Your Blob

Write a question on a topic the students know well in the TL on the board. What do you like to do?, for example. Then, list or brainstorm 4-6 answers (depends on your class size). I like to: listen to music, read, travel, etc. The students have to silently pick their preferred answer. Then, everyone stands up and walks around asking the questions and finding people with the same answer. Everyone with the same answer has to be in the same blob (group of people), until the whole room is sorted into blobs. To stretch it out, erase and replace the answers with other options.

This is especially fun/entertaining if you pose it as a "would you rather" sort of situation, or all undesirable choices. If you had to eat ____  for breakfast the rest of your life, what would it be?

2. Find Something, Touch Something

Give directions to find or touch something for whatever they know. It could be colors in the room (touch something blue), or adjectives (touch something tall). You will of course want to rule out touching people for this!

3. Freeze This Scene (The Mannequin Challenge)

Put students in groups of 2-3, and write a scene on the board using vocabulary they know. Each group reads the scene or listens to it, and recreates it by a certain time limit, freezing when the timer goes off. There's a student sitting on a table. There is a book on his/her head. There is a pencil in his/her hand.

Or, There is a mother and her daughter. The mom is mad because the daughter got an F on her test. The daughter is making up an excuse. 

It would be fun to grab a camera once everyone is frozen and tour the scenes, like the Mannequin challenge. Show at the end of class or the next day, and pause on a particularly good scene. The students can describe it in the TL as an exit slip or a bell-ringer.

(Note: the recent popularity of the mannequin challenge inspired this idea for me, but later I came across a very similar idea on Martina Bex's site. Apparently several other have thought of this as well, so click on her name to see her and their takes on it!)

4. Listen to a Song

Use music as a brain break as Allison suggests. Pick a song they love of course, so it's a true brain "break." Señor Wooly videos are perfect for this, or a catchy authentic song (find a long list of good ones here).

5. Love it/ Hate it

Designate "Love it" and "Hate it" on opposite sides of the room, with "Like it" somewhere in the middle. Just call out any word they know, and they express their opinion by moving to one side of the room or the other side. It could be anything: food, hobbies, places, verbs. Mine usually take this one seriously because they don't want to be caught saying they love something they really don't. Advanced classes can be told an entire scenario, and beginners can just get a single word.

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