Ideas for the last weeks of Spanish class

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 / Leave a Comment
The end of the year is upon us! Together with the other Secondary Spanish Space teacher bloggers, I've pulled together some of our favorite ideas and activities that we use in the last weeks of Spanish class. When it comes down to it, our ideas align to three categories: review, assess, and have fun. Below are a bunch of ideas for how to do this over the last few weeks of class. Good luck on the final push to the end of the year!  ~ Catharyn

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EdPuzzle: Engaging & Comprehnsible WL Video Activities

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 / 1 comment

Surely some of you are wondering, "What is Edpuzzle and how do I use it in my World Language Class?"  In a nutshell, EdPuzzle allows you to take videos from places like YouTube, add questions and comments, and then easily share the activities with your students.  It's efficient, engaging, flexible, and free. Here are are 7 reasons why to usee EdPuzzle and some unique ideas for implementing this tool that makes the perfect tool for interpretive and cultural World Language activities.

1. It's Free    

Edpuzzle is 100% free for the casual user!  All users can create classes, add unlimited students, access public videos to create lessons, create your own video lessons, and check student progress.

What's even more awesome is that I just received an email from the EdPuzzle team notifying me that in July all features, including Gradebook and Edpuzzle Curriculum Service, will soon be available cost-free, so you've got nothing to lose!

New users will be able to store up to 20 activities and the paid EdPuzzle for Schools subscription will unlock unlimited storage space for those who need it.

2. It's Easy to Use and Accessible on All Devices

It's almost shocking how easy it is to use EdPuzzle from both the teacher and the student point of view.   As a teacher, I take (or create) a video and post it to the website and then create questions to go along with it.  Students watch the video from any device (web-enable computer, phone, or tablet) from within EdPuzzle and answer the questions as they pop up.  Teachers can then access all student data, video completion progress, and student responses.  At a literal glance, I can see who watched the lesson, for how long, which students "got it," and who needs help.

3. It's Super Efficient 

With EdPuzzle, you don't need to reinvent the wheel.  In fact, probably the most common way to create an EdPuzzle is to find a TL (target language) YouTube video, paste the link into EdPuzzle, and then create questions for your students to answer.  It takes less than 10 minutes.  I'm a very visual learner and I survive on video tutorials, so I'll show you how easy it is in this video: 

4. It Makes Any Authentic Video an Interpretive/Comprehension Activity

When I survey my students, they almost always say their worst skill is interpretive listening. I agree; it's my worst skill, too, and it's one that's particularly difficult to improve without stressing kids out and overwhelming them.   

If you've read any of my blog posts on Spanish with Sra. Shaw about my interpretive IPA assessments, you know that I'm really big into the ACTFL interpretive tasks.  Using authentic YouTube videos with Edpuzzle allows you to give students not only more exposure to listening to native speakers, but also more opportunities to practice figuring out main ideas, guessing meaning from context, recognizing key words, etc.  

5. It Self-Differentiates 

So here's what I've found about traditional interpretive listening or video viewing activities: Some students listen and do the activity while the rest of the class (hopefully) pretends to complete it and then hurriedly fills out their paper when the answers are shared with the class.  I firmly believe only a few kids benefit when I play an audio recording for the entire class to hear at the same time. That's not to say I never do it, but whenever possible, I try to let kids use Edpuzzle for listening activities.

I'm sure your students are like mine; they get stressed during listening activities and a few (or many) shut down and quit.  I'd much rather everyone have an opportunity to listen to native speakers at their own pace and listen as many times as they need to and EdPuzzle is the perfect tool for this.  Students who need more time can go back and listen to a section again while more advanced kids can move at a more challenging pace.  

Realistically, differentiating like this may not always be a possibility, especially for formative assessments, but I am a firm believer that it helps build the confidence of my more struggling students.  Plus, as I already discussed, I'll be able to quickly see, based on student responses, who needs more help and reteaching.

6. It Pairs Perfectly With CI Activities and Stories 

CI (comprehensible input) guru, I am not, but I'm learning more strategies with every conference I attend.  I see some of the better known CI teachers like Kristy Placido using EdPuzzle as a way to engage in story-telling and questioning methods, which I love as an idea to mix it up.  

For those as unfamiliar as I once was with MovieTalk, here's Martina Bex's explanation of the practice and lots of examples. Basically, you take a movie, turn off the sound, and ask the students questions about what they are seeing. There's more to it than that, of course, but that's the concept in a nutshell. For all of you visual learners out there (myself very much included), here's a video of Martina Bex doing a MovieTalk:

While it can happen with any whole class activity, one concern I have with MovieTalk is that some kids are always going to just listen and not necessarily participate in answering the questions.  While there's ton of research support language acquisition by listening to the TL and absorbing, to mix it up, some CI folks have converted some of their stories to EdPuzzle activities so all students are answering the questions.  

The brilliant Kara Kane Jacobs from Comprehensifying and Extending Authentic Resources, for example, blogged about how she took some CI stories from Kristy Placido and Arianne Dowd and turned them into EdPuzzle video lessons and I'm loving the result! She has several different examples, but I think this Coco story is such a fun way to integrate a popular movie, a CI-style story, and EdPuzzle: 


7. It's the Perfect Flipped Learning Tool 

I'm almost embarrassed to write this paragraph. Please don't judge me.  The reason I started using EdPuzzle is so I could teach explicit grammar without wasting precious class time. <Gasp!>  Here's the thing. I  send my 8th graders off to 4 different high schools where they will encounter teachers who are really strict about grammar. I'm one of 25 teachers in my district and while I'm not a huge grammar fanatic, that doesn't mean I don't have colleagues that are.  

I initially used EdPuzzle as a tool so I could flip my grammar lessons allowing my kiddos to watch the videos at home and then I could follow up with practice activities in class. Want to learn more about the flipped classroom model? Read this article

While I initially was motivated to flip using EdPuzzle to save time, what I found what something much more amazing. My kids actually understood grammar and owned the concepts in a way I'd never seen when teaching grammar the way I'd traditionally done it: whole class lecture using the projector with students filling in the notes I'd given them.  

Now, utilizing EdPuzzle, students watch a pretty video of me presenting the grammar concept while still filling in those same note sheets, but EdPuzzle allows me to have students stop, think, and reflect on their learning and this is the piece that I'm convinced has made all of the difference.  Instead of zoning out while I lecture and filling in the notes without thinking, I utilize EdPuzzle to do constant formative assessment so all parties know how well the concept is being learned.  Now students come in ready to actually use the grammar instead of just knowing about it and their mastery of concepts that I feel I've barely covered honestly blows me away. If you're interested, here's an example of one of my flipped grammar lessons: 

So there you have it: A bunch of reasons you should absolutely try EdPuzzle! It's free, your kids will enjoy it, and you'll appreciate being able to assess your students' understanding in the blink of an eye. Plus, did I mention it makes the perfect substitute lesson plan?

Questions? Comments? Awesome ideas of how to use EdPuzzle or want to share the link to an Edpuzzle activity you've created? I'd love for you to comment below so we can share and learn more together!

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Cinco de Mayo Spanish Activities and Lesson Plans: How to Celebrate in Spanish Class

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 / Leave a Comment
Cinco de Mayo Spanish Activities and Lesson Plans:  How to Celebrate in Spanish Class

Looking for some engaging Cinco de Mayo activities for Spanish class?  

Here are my top 7 favorite activities to help you plan an exciting day and to ensure that your students learn the real history behind the celebration.

1. Join the Cinco de Mayo Spanish Teacher Pre-Party!  

I'm starting the celebration early with a 2 Week Cinco de Mayo Countdown from April 19th-May 5th on my Facebook page.

Each day I'll be sharing a new tip for celebrating Cinco de Mayo in Spanish class (printable, recipes, video clips, etc).  Comment on the posts to be entered in a drawing for 1 of 3 copies of my Cinco de Mayo PPT Bundle.  

2.  Put up some colorful Cinco de Mayo decorations 

Make your own papel picado banner or even better, have the kids make them for extra credit.
Here's a free printable fiesta banner from 

cinco de mayo banner FREE printable

3.  Start class with a Cinco de Mayo joke

Start Cinco de Mayo with a joke about a boat full of mayonnaise that sinks.  You'll be surprised how many of your students believe this.

The Origin of Cinco de Mayo
A little known fact is that back in 1912, Hellmann’s mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York. This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico but as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York.

The ship hit an iceberg and sank and the cargo was forever lost. The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning which they still observe to this day. The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course as Sinko de Mayo.

Ha, ha, ha!  

3.  Hand out this free Cinco de Mayo worksheet in Spanish or English.

Your students fill out the important info. while they watch videos explaining the holiday.  It's in my Free Resource Library.  Sign up and then check your email for the password and access link.  


 4.  Watch Cinco de Mayo videos, including one of a mariachi flash mob.  

Why?  Just because it's fun!  And it showcases how important mariachi bands are to Mexican culture, plus your band students will think this is THE BEST!  You could even have this showing as your students walk into class.

Show some videos explaining the history of Cinco de Mayo and debunking classic Cinco de Mayo myths.
The guy in the second video is a little quirky and his accent for the Spanish words he says is not so good, but the information that he presents is short and sweet - perfect for your students.  

5.  Make some simple Cinco de Mayo crafts and give the instructions all in Spanish.

Being able to follow simple instructions in Spanish is a great language learning skill.  You'll be amazed how much more your students pay attention when they're working on a craft and must follow the steps.

Here are a few of my favorites (mostly because they're pretty simple, inexpensive and look pretty.
Large Tissue Paper Flowers (
Plastic Spoon Maracas ( Idea #3) 
Great use for all those left-over Easter eggs!
Mini Piñatas ( 
Have your students bring empty toilet paper rolls ahead of time. 

6.  Have students bring in authentic Hispanic food 

Before eating, each group or student talks about which ingredients they used and how they made it in Spanish.  

Check out these 23 Cinco de Mayo recipe ideas from 

Phew!  Lots of good tips, right?  

** Remember to join the Free Resource Library so you can download the Cinco de Mayo worksheets.  

** After that, hop on over to our FB Cinco de Mayo Pre-Party!  
Hope to see you there!

Wishing you a spicy Cinco de Mayo in your Spanish classes!

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How to start a Spanish class library

Tuesday, April 3, 2018 / 4 comments
Whenever I share pictures of my Spanish classroom library, I get a ton of questions related to how to start a class library. Here I will share tips to get funding, where to buy books, as well as what to do with your new class library.

How to start a Spanish class library

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How I Keep Students Engaged with Task Cards

Tuesday, March 20, 2018 / 6 comments

If you follow me at all on social media, you know my three Ts: teaching, Target, and task cards. I am going to assume if you are reading this that you are already familiar with the first two because you are probably a teacher and, I mean, who doesn't love Target? But task cards? What are those?

Task cards are hands-down my favorite teaching tool. Essentially, they are small cards with a task for students to complete on each of them. It might be a verb to conjugate, an open-ended question to answer, finding an error in a sentence and rewriting the sentence correctly, or something else. Task cards can be over any topic you choose. It could be a grammar point like telling time in Spanish, verb tense like the preterite, verb group like reflexive verbs, or vocabulary like body parts. Whatever you want your students to review! They can be used for a variety of activities, the right ones provide a well-rounded review of a topic, they promote collaboration and conversation, and students say they really help their understanding! I have always thought a good engaging lesson plan was the best classroom management tool a teacher could have and task cards make a great addition to any lesson plan!

Today I am sharing some of my favorite ways to use them in class. Whether you are a task card addict like me or new to the concept, I hope you leave here with some ideas!


Probably the most popular (and easiest!) way to use task cards, this activity can be done with very little prep. Simply print and cut the task cards and hang them around the room. Give students a sheet to record their answers or, if you don't have time to make copies, ask them to take out a piece of paper and number it 1 - whatever # of task cards you are using. Once they are ready, have them walk around and complete the tasks on the cards by writing the answers on their response sheet. It's up to you whether they work individually or in pairs. I let them choose and it is usually a good mix of students working individually and with a partner. I LOVE seeing them collaborate and work together! You have to establish a culture in your room where it is expected that they are an equal partner in the activity, not just following someone around and writing down their answers. That doesn't help them learn! I always have music playing while they do task cards to help create a fun, upbeat vibe. Click HERE for a post I wrote about Pandora stations I like using in class!

All of my sets have 48 cards and I like to hang all 48 up but tell students they can pick any 30 to complete. That way, they have some choice in the activity and can skip ones they don't want to, or are unable to do. I always encourage them to challenge themselves and they are usually good about doing a mix of cards. I like to meander and check in with kids while they are doing the cards to see if they came across one they couldn't do and help them figure it out.

Once everyone is done, I display the answer key with my projector and have students quickly check their answers. I have them count up the number they got correct and write that number at the top of their paper. A quick show of hands ("Everyone who got 25 or more correct, raise your hand. Everyone who got 20 or more correct, raise your hand.") before they turn their paper in tells me where we are with the material and allows me to adjust my lesson plans accordingly. Such a simple and fun formative assessment that gets students out of their seats!


*Hide them around the room to make it a little more interesting. I always leave at least an inch sticking out so they aren't impossible to find and students know they are looking for cards they can actually see. Otherwise, you have students wasting time looking inside books, drawers, etc. #aintnobodygottimeforthat

*Use them for differentiation. Make individual response sheets for each student by highlighting the numbers you want that student to answer. Students only answer the ones highlighted on their sheet. That way, you can pick and choose the level of difficulty of the activity for each student.

*Sunny? Tape them up outside and let students get some fresh air while they work! They will be so happy to be outside that they'll forget they are learning AND you will be the coolest teacher ever for letting them go outside. Win-win! 

PRO TIP: Laminate your task cards so when you hang them up with tape, you can remove the tape easily without tearing the paper when you are done with the activity. You can use them over and over!


A more controlled version of Walk and Write, Scoot is played by placing one task card on each desk. You'll want to choose cards that EVERY student can complete in about the same amount of time. By that I mean don't do fill in the blanks and ones where students have to write two complete sentences. You'll have fill in the blank kids twiddling their thumbs if you do.

Once ready to play, give students a response sheet and have them sit in a random desk. Tell them they will end up answering all of the cards so it doesn't matter where they start! Students have a designated amount of time to answer the card on their desk. How much time depends on what you are asking them to do. Once the time is up, students move in an orderly fashion to the next desk. Make sure to go over the pattern of movement with them before they start. I have even been known to make arrows on the floor with my beloved colorful masking tape the first time or two we play so students can easily see which direction to move and there is no confusion.

I'm all about the quick transitions and not wasting class time so I like to use music to pace the game and keep it moving. Students start with a quiet classroom. When it is time to move, play music. Students need to be in the next seat when the music stops. This shouldn't take more than a couple seconds. Repeat until kids make it back to their original seats!

I do the same thing with the answer key, self-checking, and show of hands as I do with Walk and Write. Another fun formative assessment alternative to a worksheet!


Collaborative and fun, this game is sure to get students moving and engaged! I love how students have to work as a team and EVERYONE contributes. First team to correctly complete all the task cards wins! Here is how to play:

a. You will need to clear the area around your whiteboard. You will want to place a piece of masking tape on the floor about 10 feet from the whiteboard, parallel to the whiteboard. That is the line teams will stand behind so you'll need space for students beyond that line, too.

b. Choose 6-7 cards for each team. The number of teams depends on how big your whiteboard is and how many students are in your class. I always like to keep my teams to no more than seven or eight students if possible so there are more opportunities for turns (and learning!) per kid. You will want to make sure you are making the pile of cards for each team even as far as tasks required. You don't want to give one team all fill in the blank and another team all verbs to conjugate in all their forms. I like to give the same number of each kind of task for each team. I also like to give each team a well-rounded review so I am mindful of the verbs on the cards. For example, if I am using SER vs. ESTAR cards, I don't want to give one team all SER cards and another team all ESTAR cards. That doesn't help them review all the material. Divide your whiteboard into however many sections as you have teams. Hang the cards vertically. (see pic above)

c. Divide students into teams. I like to do something like have them quickly line up by height, by birthday, etc. and then divvy them up into teams that way. Have them line up in a single file line behind the line on the floor in front of the cards, one team per section. Give the first person in each line a whiteboard marker. 

d. Instructions time! Tell students that they are going to be working as a team to complete all their task cards. When they are at the front of the line, it is their turn. During their turn, they can go up to the board and do one of two things: 1. Do any task card that has not been done yet. OR 2. Make ONE correction to an answer already on the board. If the card is fill in the blank, they need to write out the whole sentence, not just the missing word. That makes it easier for you to correct and is good practice, too! Students have to do something each turn. No fair just walking up to the board and turning around! It could be as small as adding an accent to a word already on the board, but they have to do something. It's important that you stress the two options with students and they understand. Otherwise, you will have your stronger students going up there and making all the corrections needed in one swoop. No fun and doesn't help everyone review. One more rule: when students are at the whiteboard, they cannot get help from people in line. They are on their own. Teams are welcome to discuss what is on the board when they are waiting in line and try to figure out where the errors are, but they may not shout out answers to the person at the board.

e. As the teacher, your main job during the game is to keep an eye on the whiteboard so as soon as a team gets all the cards correct, you can put a big star on their section and they know to stop. Otherwise, they'll keep making corrections to things that don't need corrected. Even if they are not the first team to finish, teams need to continue going until they get their star.


I love stuffing plastic eggs with task cards and sending my students on an Easter egg hunt! They work in teams to find their team's color of eggs and then complete the task cards hidden inside the eggs. First team done wins! Click HERE for a blog post I wrote last spring for Secondary Spanish Space with detailed instructions on how you can do one, too! 


Each student needs a mini whiteboard, marker, and eraser. Ask students questions from the task cards or place them under a document camera. Have students write answers on their mini whiteboard and hold up. Walk around and give them a thumbs up if correct or a discreet head shake if incorrect. Students need to correct their answer until they get a thumbs up. Encourage students to try and answer on their own, without looking at the other whiteboards. Good, quick formative assessment and students LOVE writing on mini whiteboards!
*Extension- Do this activity in small groups and designate a student to lead each group and ask the questions and check answers. You'll need to teach expectations for the leaders about being kind with their feedback, not condescending. I love seeing how excited the leaders get to be "the teacher"!


Task cards can make a quick and easy exit ticket. Give each student a sticky note. Put a card under a document camera and ask students to write the answer on their sticky note. No need for names. Have students hand you their sticky note on the way out the door. It is a good way to assess their understanding so you can adjust the next day's lesson plans if need be!


So. Much. Fun. Guaranteed to make kids laugh and work together! Here is how to play:

a. Before students come to class, you have some prep work to do. I promise it is worth it! You need three piles of 8-10 task cards, one pile for each team. Like with the relay race game, you want to make them as even as possible. If using Preterite vs. Imperfect task cards, don't give one team only preterite cards and another team only imperfect cards. Mix it up so they get a well-rounded review! Once you have your task cards ready, you will need to make room for the two playing areas (see yellow diagram below). You'll need a kid's basketball hoop, the kind that hangs on the back of a door, a basket or box with small plastic ball pit balls (50 for $7.99 + free shipping!), a line on the floor for the shooting team to stand behind (I use masking tape), whiteboard, and dry erase markers. Hang the hoop and put the balls on a desk right in front of the line on the floor so they are easy for students to grab. Task cards need to get hung up on the whiteboard like in the picture below, spread out so multiple students can be working at a time. Make sure you have lots of markers available so all members of a team can be working at the same time.

b. When you are ready to play the game, divide students into three even teams. Give them 15 seconds to come up with a team name. (If they can't come up with one quickly, I give them a name and it's always something awesome like Justin Bieber Fan Club. They've learned to quickly pick names.) Write the names in a small spot on the board. Give yourself room to write points underneath or next to each team. Send each group to their designated spot. Explain what each group will be doing.

Group 1: Working as a team to complete all the task cards on the whiteboard as fast as they can. The faster they go, the less time Group 3 will have to shoot and earn points. They need to write the answers underneath each card. If a task is fill in the blank, they need to write out the whole sentence (1. It's good practice and 2. It's easier for you to check that way.). Tell them you will be checking answers as they work and you'll put a star next to each answer when it is correct. They need to keep working until all cards have a star. No star means something is wrong with the answer and they need to fix it!

Group 2: Rebounding and counting baskets. This group needs to designate two people to keep track of how many baskets are made (two just to be sure the number is correct). Everyone else is rebounding balls and either handing them to people shooting or placing them in the basket. It will be fast and furious. They need to hustle! Group 3 should never be waiting for balls. If you have a TA, it's a good idea to have them hang out over in this area and keep an eye on it while you are busy checking answers at the whiteboard.

Group 3: Shooting balls into the basket as fast as they can! They earn one point for each made basket. We always play two rounds and the teams with the highest combined total from their two rounds wins! Toes need to stay behind the line and no leaning over, either!

c. During play, you will be busy keeping one eye on the whiteboard so you can check answers off as soon as they are correct and one eye on the groups by the hoop. As Group 1 gets answers correct, put a star above the correct answers so students know to move on to a different card. As soon as all answers are starred, yell ¡Paran! Group 3 needs to stop shooting and Group 2 needs to report the numbers of baskets made to you. Write the number next to or under Group 3's team name. Once done, have students help you take down the task cards and erase the answers. Hang up the new pile.

d. Have teams rotate one position (see diagram below). Repeat until all teams go through each station twice. My original plan for this game was for one round. That quickly went out the window when students BEGGED me to go another round. They were totally strategizing how to do better the second time around which melted my teacher heart so I relented and a game with two rounds it became. You will have to use a different set of cards for Round 2. Group 1 can use Group 2's cards, Group 2 can use Group 3's, etc. 

e. Team with the most points at the end of two rounds wins!

Here is how I set up my room to play:

I reached out to the IG community to ask how they are using task cards in their classrooms. Here is what they had to say:

@schoolencasa has students use various sets at review time to quiz each other in partners.

@spanish.profe splits her large classes into two groups: one group walks and does the task cards that are posted around the room while the other group does a seat or partner assignment, then they switch.

@brainnijastpt says "We mix them up and hide them all over the classroom. We often have several different sets hanging all over the place at the same time, so students have to find the ones they are working on. We post different levels, different topics, and different tasks. And by placing them all over the room everyone is up and moving so the engagement is through the roof. Our best hiding place so far was on the ceiling and they had to use binoculars to read it."

@ekbubb says "I like to scaffold them and have kids do 15 each day. I can grade them quickly and give feedback on 15. At the end of the week, the kids have done 45 cards!"

@maestra_in_middle says "I love to use them to get kids up and walking. They also tend to make it a competition to get the most correct the fastest. I also love to print off multiple sets and have the kids do it as a review with a substitute teacher in pairs and table groups if I'm unexpectedly going to be out. Takes the whole class time and is one of the few worthy assignments I can leave with a substitute without feeling teacher guilt I left them with something that's just busy work."

@theengagedspanishclassroom says "I hang them around the room and have students visit them like quick stations! It gets them moving and they still answer all of them! I also hang them *way* out of order so they have to pay attention!" 

Want to try task cards in your Spanish classes for free? Click HERE for a free imperfect tense sample set and HERE for a free Spanish weather vocabulary task card sample set! Each sample set includes 12 cards, student response sheet, and answer key!


How are YOU using task cards in your classroom? Comment below! I am always looking for new ways to incorporate them into my classes. Or maybe you have a question? Hop over to our Facebook page and join the discussion!

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Project-Based Learning in the Spanish Classroom

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 / Leave a Comment
For this guest post, we invited Laura Sexton at PBL in the TL to help us understand what Project-Based Learning is-- and ISN'T-- and what it looks like in the world language classroom. 

Here's her informative (and fabulous) take on our question!

Projects are not Project-Based Learning.

Posters and videos and in-class presentations make learning tangible. They can become treasured artifacts of growth. On display, they can even inspire others to learn more. But if they are created as an afterthought, if they are tacked on after the “real” assessment as a sort of treat or distraction--as an intermission from Serious Work--they are not PBL. They are what the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) describes as “dessert” projects.

In PBL, though, projects are the main course.

Project-Based Learning means the learning takes place through preparation of the final product, through preparation for the final presentation. The presentation part is especially crucial for language classes because there is nothing like an authentic Spanish-speaking audience to make believers of our students.

BIE emphasizes eight elements that are essential to a Gold Standard PBL project, which I think can be broken down into three categories for world language instruction: Context, Input, and Output.


So much that’s wrong with academics in this day and age is the lack of directed purpose, the lack of meaningful context. BIE recommends Authenticity in the design of a Challenging Problem or Question. That is to say, a project must engage students in a situation that is not manufactured solely to target prescribed verb forms or practice an arbitrary list of words. If they’re really going to use language for something other than passing a test, students need language they’ll actually hear outside of Spanish class. So with PBLL, you set up an authentic problem for them, a problem that is worth solving and requires the target language to complete.

So far, my favorite “Challenging Problem or Question” that I’ve used in class so far is “What do visitors to our community need to know to enjoy their time here?” What makes this question authentic for my students is a built-in audience for their Public Product. They create video guides not for their classmates who have lived in the same counties all their lives, but for Sister Cities' exchange students who come to visit each October and actually have to find something to do in our small suburb of Charlotte!

But what’s more, the project requires Student Voice & Choice. Students choose where they will focus their attentions, whether it’s popular local restaurants or what to expect from our school dress code when they’re on our campus. The topic is something they already know plenty about, but that their audience doesn’t. AND it’s information they can make understood at the novice level.

The key here is setting up a situation that

A. They are already invested in,
B. Spanish can help with, and
C. WILL actually happen.


There is room for debate on what “Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills” entails in the language class: it may, in fact, include a particular verb tense or specific vocabulary. For example, when my classes join their international (or at least intranational) Flipgrid support groups, they have to have SOME form of past tense under their belts in order to report their progress on their goals (I usually go with perfect tense.

However, when you consider the necessity of Sustained Inquiry to creating a Gold Standard PBL unit, two skills you have to consider are reading and listening in the target language.

Now “Sustained Inquiry” in a novice PBLL class doesn’t look like it did when you were writing your thesis on Chicano Adolescent Literature in college. In fact, it probably looks more like trolling Google or Pinterest for infographs and tutorials. It might look like using Actively Learn to answer relevant questions about wind and solar energy in a cognate-heavy article that you shared with them on Google Classroom. Maybe it’ll be highlighting up comprehensible articles from El mundo en tus manos before discussing what supplies are still needed in Puerto Rico and Mexico after the disasters. Heck, maybe it’s taking notes on some tourism ads on YouTube before they create their own ads or doing a sorting activity after a TPRS novel chapter or One-Word Image story you guys came up with as a class on a new invention.

Because Sustained Inquiry isn’t just about facts for us language teacher types, it’s perfectly legitimate--and necessary--to diverge from the very specific project topic and just interpret and observe the language a bit. Don’t get me wrong, Sustained Inquiry will usually include information necessary for completing products and presentations, but in PBLL it is also hearing and reading comprehensible language until it clicks.


Naturally the Public Product comes into play in the Output category as well as Context. I always require some Spanish writing to occur, either IN the final product, or at least in a description or script beforehand. As a teacher of mostly Spanish I and II, though, I consider presentational speaking largely incidental as preparation for the interpersonal. When I’m assessing speaking, first of all, I insist on doing the “test grade” either before or after The Big Day for presentations.

Generally I prefer to do a small group assessment as sort of a confidence builder before getting in front of the Spanish-speaking parents or the Peruvian visitors or Canadian Spanish classes. I am not above using The Big Day as a confidence builder for the assessment, though, if the grade is really more intimidating than the audience for them.

But there are two more elements to BIE’s Gold Standard projects that are uniquely beneficial in language classrooms. Reflection AND Critique & Reflection are tasks that do not have to diverge from the Key Knowledge and Success Skills in our classes, because writing and dialogue are also essential to the very purpose of our courses EXISTING!

So here’s what you do.

You build in a day before The Big Day, preferably two days before so you can do some revising. You give your students some sentence stems: for novices, something as simple as

“Su grupo tiene muy buen(@s)...” and
“Su grupo necesita mejorar…”

You could give them a word bank of the kinds of problems they’re likely to encounter, and you’ve done two MAJOR things for their Spanish and their lives: you’ve prepped them with some pretty high-frequency vocabulary, but also the vocabulary to talk about their work objectively. The word bank not only helps focus their Spanish, but also their products and presentations. Having them present for one other group from class--and possibly some friendly Spanish-speaking guests--before D-Day allows them to see others’ takes on the project and describe what they see as compared to their own efforts. It adds an extra level of self-awareness to practice reflection and to have the verbiage in their active vocabulary!

Afterwards, you might even have them sit down and write a bit. To be honest, I’ve had better success when they got to do a little free writing in ye olde English first (get out the whining and complaining about group members, you know), then condensed their thoughts into basically a plus/delta reflection of their own performance.

Getting Started

Dessert projects can still be fun, and learning with a public product in mind is not the only way to learn. The fact of the matter is that most other types of learning CAN be woven into a solid Project-Based Learning unit, and also you will probably have to test drive some low-octane projects to work your way up to PBL.

But if you’re working up to a full course meal, try seasoning with Context, Input, and Output.

If you’re looking for some ideas to get started, check out the list of projects I’ve tried—for better or for worse—so far!

Laura is a project-based, passion-driven language educator and consultant and has been a Spanglish teacher for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @SraSpanglish or and find more resources on the PBL in the TL store on TeachersPayTeachers.

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Creating Engaging Projects as Assessments

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 / Leave a Comment
I used to teach Spanish 1A and 1B - that's Spanish 1 split up over two years. However did I stretch ONE year's worth of Spanish over TWO years, you might ask?


I became The Queen Of Projects!

Why Projects Are The Best Ever:

1.  They are an awesome way for students to demonstrate their learning (in place of a boring multiple choice test).

2.  They are easy to grade (when you set yourself up for success with an easy rubric).

3.  They're fun! Students will enjoy showing you the delicious grammar and vocabulary words they now know.

The Rubric

Start by creating the rubric - what knowledge do you want your students to demonstrate to you?

Write down exactly what vocabulary or grammar points you want students to utilize and how many. Complete sentences with 12 clothing items, 10 regular (correctly conjugated) -AR verbs, 8 adjectives matching their nouns (gender & number), their name, age, where they are from, and 3 activities they like to do. Or whatever.

This is a completely ridiculous project.

Choose numbers that are easy for students to remember and easy for you to QUICKLY identify or count. You don't want to be grading 150 projects for half the school year because you have to find 47 verbs and 23 adjectives in each student's project.

You want to spend 1 minute or less grading each project, so think about making the grading process EASY when creating the rubric.

Assign point values to everything and make your project rubric add up to a nice round number. 33 points is an unacceptable number. My OCD prohibits me from making rubrics that end in anything other than 5 or 0.

The Scenario

I like to give my students a scenario for why we are about to do this project. It helps them get into the groove for what they're going to spend the next couple of days working on. It's a way of disguising the fact that I actually just want to see if they can write sentences with properly conjugated verbs.

Put your scenario at the very top of the handout you give your students - they should read this first.

It's the hook.

My students are transformed into fashion design editors and that's why they're going to scour the internet for the latest fashions and write short paragraphs in Spanish, describing the colors and clothing items that their "models" are wearing.

Or they are all going to play board games for a week straight - as soon as they make them. And all the games must be entirely in Spanish. You don't really need a scenario for board games - this project sells itself.

The Checklist

Middle school students will especially benefit from a checklist of all tasks that must be completed, the order they must be completed in, and all tasks broken down by day if this is a multi-day project.

A checklist might not be necessary for high school students, but you know your students best.

The checklist is basically the same as your rubric, but without the point values and with these boxes ⃣ in front of each requirement so students can physically check off each requirement as they complete it.

I know I personally get joy from checking off boxes as I complete tasks.

These gorgeous boxes are available in Microsoft Word by going to Insert -> Symbol and then choose "Symbol" from the Font dropdown menu if it's not already the default. You'll see them all staring at you. 

Do you want to hold students responsible for completing everything on the checklist by the end of the period on each day? Require them to get your initials for additional points. Make a big show of going around with a fancy flair pen in your favorite color at the end of the period and initialing the students' papers who are on track to complete their project on time.

The Rough Draft

Do you want your students to do a rough draft first? If so, make this a requirement (assign points for its proper completion) and give them a structured format in order to complete their rough draft. If they have to write 5 sentences, then give them 5 lines, each of them numbered 1-5. If they have to draw something, then give them a box with a reminder of what they have to draw.

I don't always have students do a rough draft.  Sometimes the project lends itself well to that, and other times students can just dive right in.

The Preparation

Are you going to need the computer lab?  Make sure it's available ahead of time for each of your classes!

Are you going to have your students do their project the good old fashioned way on paper and make booklets?  Steal Borrow a ream (or 3) of paper from the copy room in advance. Make those booklets for students in advance if you can (during your lunch period the day before, during homeroom, between classes, etc).  You'd be surprised how long it can take middle school students to count out 5 sheets of paper, fold them in half, and staple them neatly into a booklet. It will take some of them an entire 40 minute period and they'll still do it wrong.

Don't let middle school students staple anything. I mean NOTHING. Not only will they attempt to staple their neighbor, but they'll put 67 staples into their booklet because "it looks cool". It's worth being the Stapler Nazi and walking around the room to individually staple everyone's papers for them. Or assign a trusted student as the Stapler Nazi if you're comfortable delegating that task to a well-trained, well-behaved student who can handle this ginormous responsibility.

Additional Tips

Don't spend your precious time creating what the internet has already created for you. My personal favorite website for creating rubrics is Rubistar, but there are many free options out there.

Are students working together? Have students grade each other in their groups at the end of the project and add that grade to each student's final grade for the project. There's a rubric for that.

Are students peer editing the rough drafts they wrote? There's a rubric for that.

Do you have a class full of rowdy chaos-creating gemstones with ants in their pants? There's a rubric for that.

I love using projects to assess students' comprehension and see what they can create with the language.  If you have any other tips or tricks, please comment below!

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