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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5 Awesome Review Games You Can Prep in a Snap

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 / Leave a Comment

I love games. (I love them so much I decidated an entire page to lists of them: Spanish Learning Games.)

You know what I also love? Having a stash of no-prep, low-tech activities in my back pocket. 

There are many awesome review options that students love: Kahoot, Quizlet Live, Jengaand Jeopardy come to mind. Some days you really do have time to prepare, take advantage of tech, and it's great.

But today, we're talking zero-prep, easy-to-explain games.

You can throw these together five minutes before class starts, and have all of your students engaged, the whole time. Ready?

5 Easy Review Games for Spanish Class

Since teaching with comprehensible input/ to proficiency, I always try to use whole language in games. I focus on activities that provide input and involve authentic communication. These games are perfect when reviewing a novel, story, movie, or text.

If you are reviewing for something more grammar-based or vocabulary-based, though, you can still use these! I've tried to include examples of how to do so when pertinent. 
 I know everyone has different circumstances.

1. Escribe, Dibuja, Pasa

Prep: Paper, pens/pencils. Groups of 4-8. (6-8 is best.)

This quick video explains how to play--  use it to show your class what to do.

My favorite way to use the game is when studying a novel, story, or theme. For example, when studying the novel Esperanza, I might tell my class they have 5 minutes to look through chapters 1-3. They should choose 1-2 sentences to copy, and then draw the scene.
If you are reviewing for a themed or grammar-based test, give a parameter like "create a scene in a restaurant," or "write a scene using -ar verbs."

2. Bingo / Lotería

Prep: Free blank Bingo printables pens/pencils. Whole-class.
Except for printing the games, this one is zero-prep. It develops listening skills and works for ANY topic or theme.

Set up and play:
  • Pass out the Bingo grids. Then, dictate scenes for the students to draw in random squares until the board is filled. Play as many rounds as you like!
  •  Seriously, with a grid of 25 squares, you can take a whole class period on this. AND you can save the boards for the rest of the year, for days when you have an extra five minutes. 
  • If you are reviewing a novel, narrate different scenes straight from the book. Grammar topic-- dictate scenes in the past, or reflexive verbs, etc. The key is to deliver whole language, in context, in which they have to listen carefully.

**IF you need some quiet time in class -- maybe you've lost your voice, or need to do some speaking assessments-- simply type up the descriptions, hand them out with the grids, and have everyone read and illustrate the boards. This does involved prep, but can give you a breather in-class.

3. El Marcador

Prep: Markers or pens. Or a crumbled piece of paper. Groups of 2. 
Watch this 30-second video to see how to play. (Read a more detailed explanation at Mis Clases Locas!). Show it to your class, and go!

Have the students keep track of points, and you're done!

4. Memory

Prep: Paper, pens, scissors. Groups of 4-6. 

Make game cards to play Memory in groups. I used to do this for vocabulary or grammar, but you can really take it up a notch by setting up the matching cards as questions and answers. Señora Chase has a great explanation of how she plays this game as a group, and I'm borrowing from her ideas below!

Set up and play:
  • Pass out paper squares to the groups.
  • Each student within is responsible to come up with several questions and answer. (You set the parameters, of course-- if the questions are from a novel the class is reading, from a story, or something Persona Especial based on people in class.)
  • Have the students check their cards with you when ready. Set a minimum, but let early finishers do extra cards. Then let them play in groups! The activity should be self-monitoring since the students themselves made the cards.
  • Alternatively, play as a class with the teacher guiding the game. Randomly number the cards on the back, so the students can take turns asking you to turn the cards over. 

5. 4 Corners

Prep: Classroom space, 4 pieces of paper, tape. Whole-class.
There are tons of ways to play. Basically, "it" counts to ten while everyone else quietly chooses a corner of the room to stand in. "It" calls out a corner (without looking), and everyone in that space is out. Last student in, wins.
  • To review vocabulary: Sketch the terms as a picture, and tape one in each corner. (Write the terms in Spanish on the board.) Student who is it counts to 10, then calls out one of the terms on the board. Everyone in that corner is out. 
  • To review a story/film/book: Put a character's name in each corner. The teacher counts to ten, then states something related to one of the characters. Whoever is in the corresponding corner is out. (Credit: Mis Clases Locas) If you do persona especial, this would be perfect!
  • To review grammar: Post an object pronoun in each corner, and call out nouns, or post pronouns and call out a verb.

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How to Incorporate Culture in Your Spanish Classroom

Tuesday, January 9, 2018 / Leave a Comment
How to Incorporate Culture in Your Spanish Classroom
We all know that culture is an important part of language learning, but we often don't spend as much time as we should teaching our students about other cultures.  

Let's be honest, most of the time, the culture that accompanies our textbooks is pretty weak, and we're so busy creating lesson plans for the basics of language learning, that we run out of time for culture.

You know you need to add more culture to your classes if:

A.  Your students can't name 10 Spanish speaking countries (my favorite answers are:  Germany, Japan, the U.S., and Europe).

B.  Your students are tired of learning grammar and verbs.

C.  Most of your students haven't had the opportunity to travel outside your town or state.

D.  Your students constantly say, "Why do we have to learn Spanish?  I'm never going to use it."

Let culture inspire your students to learn more Spanish so they can:  

* compete in a global economy
* be sensitive and welcoming to community members from other countries
* make new Hispanic friends
* travel to beautiful places
* learn a different perspective

At the very least, commit to spending 15-30 minutes every week on culture. Here are 15 ways to incorporate culture into your Spanish classes this year.

1.  Use free Hispanic nationality partners sheet to ensure that students work with a variety of partners throughout the year.
Bonus:  This will help them learn all the Spanish-speaking countries.

2.  Post interesting facts and colorful photos from a different Hispanic country every few weeks.

3.  Create a language cafe to share authentic food and conversation.

4.  Show short video clips from all the Hispanic countries to showcase culture.  Here are a few of my favorites:
Making Instruments from Recycled Garbage, 4 min. - In Spanish.  
Using garbage from the slums to create beautiful music.

Biblioburro, 5 min. - In Spanish with English subtitles.  
A man brings books on his burro to children in Colombian communities.  

5.  Have students look for evidence of culture in their daily lives.  
Give them this sheet listing the 21 Hispanic countries.  Whenever they find something or someone from a Hispanic country, they color the country and write what they found.  

6.  Read books that reference Hispanic culture.  
One of my favorites for juniors and seniors is "Cuentos con sazón".  Students can read the whole book or just a chapter or two.  

It's the story of a family reunion where all the relatives take turns describing their childhood adventures in various countries.  Each chapter talks about authentic food, some sort of festival and kids who get into a little bit of trouble.  

After reading the book, divide the students into groups and have them write their own chapter, including an adventure where kids get into trouble, an authentic food, and a famous celebration in another country.

7.  Discuss interesting traditions from other countries.
Do your students know about La Tomatina, the tomato throwing festival in Spain?  

Do they know about the tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight and wearing a new pair of yellow underwear for New Years?  

Kids are fascinated by this type of stuff!  

Assign a country to each student and have them research and share an interesting tradition with the class.
8.  Every Monday, have students share an article about a Spanish-speaking country.  
Lower level students can bring in articles in English and upper level students can bring in articles in Spanish.  They should be prepared to give a quick summary in Spanish of their articles.  
Here are some great sites to find free articles:
2.  El Mundo
3.  El País
4.  ABC

9.  Post realia in your classroom.
Check out my Spanish Realia Pinterest board to get you started.  Add different realia every few weeks to keep things fresh.

Infografia Esclavo Del #Celular Víctima De Nomofobia @Candidman

10.  Host guest speakers from other countries.
Track down people from Hispanic countries in your community and invite them to class to share their culture.  Encourage them to bring photos, food, and other props.  The speakers may only be able to present to 1-2 classes, so you may wish to invite multiple speakers to cover all your classes.

11.  Read children's biographies about famous Hispanics or read about famous people online.


12.  Share songs that showcase culture.  
El desaparecido by Manu Chao is one of my favorites that is perfect for units on immigration:

13.  Show ads or YouTube clips from Hispanic countries.
It's really interesting to watch ads from other countries - great for comparing and contrasting culture.  

And there are some awesome YouTube channels for culture.  
Just discovered this one, Benshorts Viajes, and found the perfect video for all your high school boys.  

In this video, he mixes 50 of the hottest salsas he can find to create a "Monster Salsa".  Great for a food unit and for learning the word, picante.  I love the faces that he makes when he eats it.  Ha, ha! 

Remember that you can click on the settings wheel (looks like a gear) on the bottom right of the video to change the speed of the dialogue.  If you put him on .75 speed, he actually talks at a normal speed instead of super-fast.  :)

I also love Ruben y el mundo, Canal 2.  He travels to different countries each week, speaks in slow, clear Spanish, and shares interesting tidbits of information.  

14.  Share idioms, funny memes and jokes weekly with your students.

Spanish language humor.  Llamame shirt.

15.  Have your students research and do presentations on their own hobbies in other countries.
If you have a student who loves art, have her do a presentation about a famous museum or Hispanic artist.

If you have a student who likes dance, have her demonstrate salsa, meringue, or flamenco.  

If you have a student who likes soccer, have him talk about a Hispanic soccer team or player.  

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Must Read Blog Posts for Spanish Teachers

Tuesday, December 26, 2017 / Leave a Comment
Secondary Spanish Space has officially celebrated our 1st birthday! Thank you so much for reading and joining us on this journey. We really appreciate your support and look forward to year two. To wrap up 2017, we would like to share the must read posts of our first year. Hopefully you are enjoying your break, so grab a warm drink, cuddle up and get ready to read our most popular posts so far. 

Must Read Blog Posts for Spanish Teachers

5 Fresh Ideas for the New Year in Spanish Class

It is perfect timing for Sherry's 5 fresh ideas for the new school year. Find out how you can spice up your classes once you return from break to make this the best year yet! 

7 Reasons to Love Quizlet Live in the WL Classroom

The real question is who does not love Quizlet Live?! It is collaborative, low prep, and engaging for everyone. Find out why Jen loves Quizlet Live so much in this post. 

20 Pandora Stations for the Spanish Classroom

Make sure to bookmark these 20 Pandora Stations shared by Dianna. They make for great background music to complement whatever you are doing in class, or even at home. 

How I Maintain my Spanish When Teaching Lower Levels

If you feel your own Spanish skills are lacking after spending all day using very simple language, make sure to read how Jessica maintains her Spanish outside of school. Break is a great time to take care of yourself and use those Spanish skills connecting with an old friend, reading a book, or taking a trip. 

Teaching a Novel 101

Allison breaks down exactly how she uses a novels as the center of her curriculum in teaching a novel 101

5 Binge-worthy Netflix Shows for Spanish Teachers

Now is the perfect time to pick a show from this list to binge-watch this break. Also, the comments of the post have many other suggestions as well, including newer to Netflix, El Barco The second season of Las chicas del cable comes out December 25th too!

15 Ways to Use Authentic Music in Spanish Class

This post on ways to use authentic music was the first ever published on Secondary Spanish Space! Get ideas on how you can utilize music in new ways this year. 

5 Minute Brain Breaks for the World Language Classroom

Elisabeth shares 10 fun and easy ways to give students a brain break in this post. These quick breaks leave everyone refreshed and ready for the second half of class. 

Back to Spanish Class: 1st Week of School

These 1st week of school ideas from Allison would be great if you are starting with a new bunch of kids second semester. 

What to Do with Spanish Club - 20 Fun Ideas

Cathryn's 20 Fun Ideas for Spanish club was our second most popular post. Find out how you can make everyone want to join Spanish club this year. 

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