Movement in Spanish Class - 10 ways to get students out of their seats

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 / Leave a Comment
Inside: How to get your Spanish class moving to increase engagement and motivation. 

Movement in Spanish Class - 10 ways to get students out of their seats - by Mis Clases Locas on Secondary Spanish Space
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You Can't Do All the Things: Healthy Teachers, Healthy Classrooms

Tuesday, October 2, 2018 / 5 comments

It's October! For teachers in the US, that means the honeymoon period of back-to-school is long-gone. We're settling in for that stretch until Thanksgiving.

Maybe we rushed into the school year with an armload of amazing new ideas and systems. And for some of us, now is the time of year when it starts crashing down.
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7 Awesome Speaking Activities Your Students Will Love

Thursday, September 6, 2018 / 1 comment

I have always found myself going back to the same types of activities unit after unit, year after year. They're easy for me to plan.

After a while though, kids eyes glaze over and they're like, "Oh, we're doing THIS activity again?" *insert teenagers rolling their eyes and looking as disinterested as possible*

If you're looking for some fresh new ideas to broaden your teacher toolkit and include some variety in your lessons this year - look no further!

Here are 7 ideas for great speaking activities you can test out this school year.

1. Info. Gap Partner Activity

My #1 fave go-to speaking activity is the info gap partner activity. It takes a bit of prep work to make sure you set it up right and you need to train kids well on how to do it, but once you've got those pieces in place it's smooth sailing.

How does it work?

  • Partner everyone up - I suggest you make everyone's partner be the kid they're sitting next to.
  • Partner A has 5 questions and 5 answers on his paper. Partner B has prompts for the 5 answers to Partner A's questions and 5 questions that Partner A has prompts for.
  • Students alternate asking and answering questions with the prompts on their papers. They get speaking practice with the grammar or vocabulary that you are targeting that class period.

2. Question Ladders

Jen Shaw suggests scaffolding students' interpersonal speaking activities with question ladders. They can give lower level students the support they need to successfully engage in conversation.

How does it work?

  • Let's say you're teaching a food unit with stem-changing verbs. 
  • You give students the question "¿Qué prefieres comer para la cena?" Students then have to write a similar question in Spanish (most likely "¿Qué prefieres comer para el almuerzo?" or "Qué prefieres beber para la cena?"). 
  • Then they have to answer both questions - your original question and the similar one they created. 
  • You give them 5-6 question prompts for the unit, so students have 10-12 questions and answers that they can use in conversations.

3. Ask & Switch

I like activities that get kids up and out of their seats. They spend almost the entire day seated. They need something active sometimes!

How does it work?

  • Ask & Switch is a pretty self-explanatory activity. Everyone gets an index card with a question on one side and a prompt for an answer on the other. 
  • Students get out of their seats and walk up to the partner of their choice. 
  • Student A asks Student B the question on their index card and shows student B the answer prompt. Student B answers the question, asks Student A their question, Student A answers.
  • Then they switch cards and go find someone else to talk to. 
  • Give kids 4-5 minutes so they get a variety of practice with questions and answers. 
I have a blog post about this activity if you want some more tips and suggestions for it. I also have ask & switch sets available in my tpt store for 20+ different grammar and vocabulary topics. Try the free version with the present tense form ir + places to see how it can work in your class!

4. Find Someone Who

I have done this activity in my classroom, but I think Allison from Mis Clases Locas is the queen of this activity. Get her freebie here and you can try it out in your class!

How does it work?

  • Students get a handout with a 4x5 grid on it. Each box has a question in it.
  • Students have to ask each other the questions in the boxes and find someone who did each activity.
  • They have to find a different person for each box!
  • This can be a great first day mixer activity, or you can use it to target specific vocab or grammar structures.

5. Speaking Activities with Rotating Partners

There are maybe endless ways you can tweak this activity, but it's the same general idea. Students are divided into 2 groups and everyone in group 1 cycles through and speaks with everyone in group 2. 

How does it work?

Well, it can work in a variety of ways.

Interview Style:
  • Have half the kids stand at the front of the room (or wherever you have space) shoulder to shoulder (with some personal space between them) and their backs to the wall.
  • Then the other half of the students line up and face them. Everyone has a partner.
  • Partner A pretends to be a famous person (or a character from that novel your class just finished) and Partner B asks them questions.
  • You give them a pre-determined amount of time.
  • When the timer goes off, everyone takes two steps to their right and they have a new partner! Whoever is on the far right end then goes down to the end of the line. 
  • You can have students switch roles so that everyone gets to ask and answer questions.

Speed Dating:

  • Allow the entire class 30 seconds to finish awkwardly giggling at the name of this activity.
  • Jen Shaw explains it best how you can have students rotate seats through the rows or groups you have set up in your classroom.

Rotating Partner conversations:

  • Allison has her students discuss a pre-determined topic and then move to a new chair with a new partner after the timer goes off. It's basically the same as speed dating, but without the name that makes teenagers awkwardly giggle uncontrollably.

Inside Outside Circles
  • You need to have enough space in your classroom for half your students to stand in a large circle with the other half of your class facing them in an inner circle. 
  • Kids ask each other questions and then the outer circle take a step to the right after your timer goes off and they get a new partner.
  • This is not an ideal activity if your classroom is packed to the brim with 36 student desks and chairs and you have a minor meltdown when they put a 37th student in your class with no warning and you yell at your department head, "WHERE IS THIS CHILD GOING TO SIT?" 

6. Turn & Talk

If you were hoping for a speaking activity that integrates culture - girl, I've got you.

How does it work?

  • Jen Shaw has her students speak at their tables or with partners about images that she shows (see the example above). 
  • They can discuss their thoughts on the image in small groups and then she can model questioning and answers to the whole class.

7. Café y Conversación

This one might be my favorite idea. Bribe your students with delicious beverages.  Transform your classroom into a café and bring that authentic culture to your students. And drink hot chocolate while teaching.

How does it work?

Jen Ries guest blogs on Allison's Mis Clases Locas blog to explain all the details. This activity is geared toward upper level students who have enough Spanish to be able to carry on a full conversation.

  • Pick a topic that students care about and is controversial to them. Or come up with a few topics and let them vote.
  • Students can prep for this by jotting down ideas, but it should be authentic and spontaneous Spanish, so their notes should be in English.
  • Students carry on a conversation in Spanish with the teacher as moderator to make sure kids aren't talking over each other and are getting their turn to put in their 2 cents. Otherwise, it's completely student-centered and student-driven conversation. While you sip your tea and think about how many marshmallows you want in your hot chocolate next time.

Do you have any other speaking activities in your teacher toolbox? If you do please share them in the comments! Also let us know if you try any of these activities and how they go in your classroom!

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Back to Spanish Class: 7 Ideas for Getting Organized

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 / 2 comments
Ten+ years into my teaching career and I finally feel like my classroom runs like a well-oiled machine. Through A LOT of trial and error, I have created a space that works for me AND my students. Many of the following ideas put the responsibility back on the students so they learn life skills and are self-sufficient, thus freeing me up to do the 502 other things I need to do during the class period. They also give students ownership of their learning which I think is important for them to have. Here are seven of my favorite classroom management ideas for organizing your classroom that will in turn make your life easier.


I tell my students at the beginning of the year that Spanish class is a lot like kindergarten- we color, we play games, we draw, and we have story time. We are constantly using scissors, crayons, colored pencils, etc. Rather than having school supplies from one end of my classroom to the other, I use material boxes. Each contains a couple pairs of scissors, crayons, markers, rulers, glue, glue sticks, and colored pencils (see pic below). I make 20 of them up at the beginning of the year and then freshen them up a few times throughout the year by reorganizing and restocking them. I keep them all on one shelf and students know they can go grab a material box whenever they need it or I can tell students to go grab one during an activity and they know what I mean. What comes out of the box, must go back in the box. Students are usually pretty good about putting their supplies back in their box and not their neighbor's.

During all the back to school sales, I can make a new material box for about $5. It will be most expensive the first year you do them because of buying the containers and scissors, but you should be able to use those things year after year. I usually only have to replace a few things a year after that. The dollar store has containers for $1 or I got the one below at Staples for 99 cents. (Disclaimer: This post was in no way sponsored by Staples, despite all the Staples products in the picture below. I am not an affiliate, either. They just have a smokin' rewards program and send me $10 off a purchase of $10 or more coupons several times a year #freesupplies. You can also choose a school to donate a percentage of your purchases to. I bet your school qualifies! Check it out!)

Want an easy and fun way to decide which students go get the material box for their groups? Check out this post I wrote on SSS about how I do this in my classroom: Transition Tip for Any Secondary Classroom.


Do you do warm-ups (a.k.a. bellringers) in class? Save paper and time by only collecting them once a week! I use pink pieces of paper for my warm-ups because the colored paper is easy for students to find in their backpacks AND it easy for me to spot on desks. Just like every other procedure in your classroom, you will need to teach your students how to use them properly. Students have been trained to pick them up from the front table on Monday and turn them in on Friday. They also know to have their pink sheets out and be quietly working on the warm-up I've projected as soon as the bell rings. This gets them right into Spanish-mode and prevents wasted class time. Having them spend the first couple minutes working on a warm-up also gives me time to take attendance, check in with students, or finish setting up an activity.

As you can see in the examples below, the front of the pink sheet has a place for students to write their name and the pink sheet number. Week 1 of the semester is PS #1, Week 2 is PS #2, etc. Below that, students are responsible for circling the number of points from the week they think they have earned before they turn it in on Friday. This is a good reminder for them to double-check they have the warm-up for each day. They are taught at the beginning of the semester that full points are only given for each day if the warm-up is there AND complete. I verify their points when I enter their pink sheets in the grade book on Friday. Below the points section is a place for them to keep track of any homework that week. The last thing on the front is a space for students to write me a note. Students are encouraged to use that space to tell me anything they would like me to know whether it be an activity they really enjoyed and would like to see more of, a concern they have about the class, or anything else they didn't get a chance to tell me during class. Many students leave it blank, but others have used it to wish me a great weekend, practice their Spanish, or let me know about a big event in their life. #buildingrelationships

On the back is where students complete the daily warm-up. To save on copies, students are responsible for writing the days of the week and drawing the line after each warm-up. Writing the days of the week is good practice, too!


Sanity-saving trick: Put up a daily agenda board. Save yourself from answering "What are we doing today?" five. million. times. a day. My students know to look there as soon as they walk in the room. There is space for a list of what each class is doing that day, any important announcements or reminders I might have for them, and the one every administrator looks for and LOVES to see displayed, the standard/learning objective of the day.

I use colored masking tape instead of drawing lines with a marker to make the lines last longer. Otherwise, they get easily erased and you find yourself drawing them three times a week and nobody has time for that.


Call me old school, but I still believe in students taking notes by hand. Research shows  that students retain information better if it is written by hand rather than typed on a computer or tablet. I wanted a small, easily-recognizable place for students to keep their notes. Something they could carry around the room while doing task cards or other activities since they move at least 4x a day. From that, the idea of the mejor amigo was born. A mejor amigo is a small booklet that students make and write their notes in. We call them mejores amigos because they will be a student's best friend over the next several weeks during Spanish class. I have always taught Spanish 1 and Spanish 2. I created units for each level and there are six units per level. Each unit is a mejor amigo. Spanish 1 does Mejores Amigos #1-#6 and Spanish 2 does Mejores Amigos #7-#12. My world is organized by mejores amigos.

At the beginning of each unit, students make a mejor amigo. To make one, each student will need:
  • Two pieces of white computer paper 
  • Two pieces of yarn that I've pre-cut into pieces approx. 6" in length
  • Access to a 3-hole punch
  • Colored pencils or crayons for decorating the front

I draw an example on the front whiteboard so students know what information needs to be included.  Students need to put Mejor Amigo & number, give it a name (I mean, it is their best friend, after all), and write their name. They are encouraged to spend a little time personalizing it with colored pencils or crayons to help make it their own and make it easier to tell apart from the 30+ in the classroom on any given day. Another reason to have material boxes! 😃

There is also a class copy of each mejor amigo. Each day there are notes, a TA writes the notes in the class mejor amigo so students who are absent can catch their mejor amigo up when they return.


One of my least favorite questions I get as a teacher is when a student comes back after being absent and asks me "Did you guys do anything while I was gone?". Nope, nada. We sat around and played on our phones (insert eye roll). One thing that has helped cut down on the time spent catching a student up is having an absent binder! It is kept in a designated space and students know the first thing they should do when they return from being gone is grab the binder. Remember the pink sheets from above? I hate students missing out on the learning opportunity (and points) for a warm-up when they were gone so each day I print off the warm-up for each level and put them in the binder. Extra copies of hand-outs, permission slips, etc. go in there, too! Something to hand back to a kid? It goes in the binder. The class copy of the mejor amigo is in there, too! It is like Target: one-stop amazingness.


You have probably heard of using popsicle sticks as a quick and easy way to call on students, as well as keep them on their toes and accountable. The problem with popsicle sticks is they just give you a name. I wanted more information from my students, information I could use to build relationships and help them be successful in my class. I came up with the idea of students making index cards during student teaching and have used it ever since.

At the beginning of the semester, every student makes an index card. Below is an example of what I write on the whiteboard. I hand each student an index card and ask them to fill out the information on the board. Upper left, first and last name, is also a place for them to write any nicknames or the name they go by that might be different than what is on my class list. Upper right has been really helpful for setting the tone from Day 1 that I am here, I am listening, and I want them to be successful. I stress to students that I am the only one that sees the index cards so they are refreshingly honest with what they write. Some tell me about medical issues that affect where they need to sit in the room, others tell me about messy break-ups or fights between ex-friends, and others talk about how they learn best. All of that information is filed away in my brain for seating charts, pairing students for groups, and designing lesson plans. Bottom left gives me an idea of what kind of time commitments students have outside of class. Bottom right varies from favorite band to favorite TV show to hobbies. It's just a fun way to learn more about them. The middle is probably my favorite. What students choose to draw is always fascinating to me. Some are goofy answers like cheese, but others are really thoughtful and tell me a lot about the student. My favorite ever was probably the big, tough-looking football player who drew a picture of his baby sister. 😍 I eagerly read all the cards at the end of the day and their answers always surprise me!

I use the index cards throughout the semester to randomly call on students for answers, put students randomly into groups by quickly pulling out cards, and spread them out on my desk to make groups for games like my Jeopardy-style trivia games when I want to control who is in what group. I also like to include their favorite bands, singers, activities, etc. in questions. I love seeing their faces light up when they see their favorite singer's name in the warm-up or their favorite band in a test question!


Call me crazy, but I never get annoyed when students come to class without a pencil or paper. I am just happy they are there! To bypass students asking me to borrow something (and keep them from getting their germs all over the supplies on my desk! #onlysomanysickdays), I have a spot in my classroom that is a designated student center. I keep extra pencils, pens, and paper there, as well as a couple staplers, tape dispensers, 3-hole punches, and Spanish-English dictionaries. There is also a space for the supplies students need to make a mejor amigo like yarn and white computer paper. If students leave things in my classroom, I have a shelf for those items, too. Students know they can get anything they need from there, no questions asked and no shaming. If they need to take the pencil with them to the rest of their classes that day, that is okay, too. I want them to be successful and if the difference between them being successful and being anxious and stressed out all day because they don't have a writing utensil is a 5 cent pencil, I will gladly give them a pencil.

If you end up using any of these ideas in your classroom, I would love to hear about it! Please tag me on IG (@laprofeplotts) or let me know on Facebook! These ideas have saved my sanity and I hope they help you, too! As always, if you loved this post, I would greatly appreciate you re-pinning it for me ↓. Thanks, amigos!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase something after clicking the link, I receive a small thank you from Amazon which helps fund my blog post-writing sessions at Starbucks. 😀

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Taking the Plunge: My Plan for Shifting to CI this Year

Tuesday, August 14, 2018 / 2 comments
For this guest post, we are pleased to have Jade Collins, a South Carolina high school Spanish teacher who is the brains behind the TpT store, La Secundaria and one of our favorite Spanish teacher Instagram accounts, @lasecundaria_JAC. This year Jade is shifting her teaching to focus on comprehensible input (CI). We hope you enjoy this special guest post about her plan for shifting to CI with novice level high schoolers this year.

Have you seen all the amazing Instagram posts about Comprehensible Input? 

Have you seen some of these CI posts, but don’t know exactly what it is? Well, that was me. I saw teachers instructing in Spanish the majority of the class, students using the target language to communicate, and students reading books in Spanish and having discussions about what they read. For more on CI and proficiency approaches, bookmark this post from Elisabeth (Spanish Mama) What Everyone Needs to Know about Language Proficiency to read later.

CI and proficiency all sounds amazing! But there’s a catch, right?!


It can be a lot of work! As I debated if (and how) I might bring this approach to my own classroom, I had to consider several factors:

  • You may have to step completely out of your comfort zone. I'm a non-native speaker and giving my students accurate input is important to me but we all make mistakes.
  • The way you prep your lessons make have to change slightly or completely. It could take some time until you find a groove. (Which you will! :) )
  • I would need many new and different resources to make sure students get the language input they need. 
It can feel like a lot to take on, but...

Why take the plunge into comprehensible input? many of you get the response below when you tell someone you’re a Spanish teacher?
“I wish I had stuck with Spanish.” 
“I had x amount of years of Spanish.” 
“**insert random Spanish words that don’t go together.” 

I’ve heard it time and time again. I’m choosing comprehensible input because I believe it is the best way for me to make sure my students don’t repeat those phrases to anyone in the future. 

By providing my students with comprehensible input I can provide them with the skills to be lifelong learners and Spanish speakers. Students will be acquiring the Spanish language in a more natural way, listening and interacting and I truly believe it will make learning more fun with students! 

It’ll definitely be an INTERESTING experience for a first time teacher using CI. This year will be my first year ATTEMPTING to use CI in the classroom (and totally planning to kick butt, in case you had any doubt). As I get ready to embark on this journey, I’ve thought about what I’ll need to get started. I hope my thoughts might help get you thinking too! 

Here are five things that I feel are needed to get started:

1. Mindset 

Having the mindset that you will provide comprehensible input and that you CAN do it is half the battle. You also have to have the patience to work through this new approach with your students. Since you’ll be teaching mostly in Spanish there will be bumps (and that’s fine) because students won’t know all the words. It will take a bit more effort from them and me for them to understand the message/story I’m telling. 

2. Resources 

Having a variety of resources is important for students. Incorporating reading, listening, speaking and writing activities will have students develop all skills instead of just one or two. As we get started, I’m planning to focus mainly on listening with my own students, and then slowly build in the other skills of reading, speaking, and writing as we go.

As I transition my students from listening to using their other language skills I want to incorporate resources that will help build confidence. Some resources that I’m very interested in incorporating into my new CI classroom are short reading comprehension passages and exit slips, paired and whole class speaking exercises, and writing exercises that provide my students the opportunity to write freely and communicate their own messages in Spanish. These are quick, formative assessments that will help guide my instruction and decide what they need more or less of in terms of instruction.

There are tons of resources appropriate for comprehensible input. I’ll be preparing some to meet the needs of my students but you can also find great resources on Teachers Pay Teachers (two of my favorite teacher-authors are Martina Bex - The Comprehensible Classroom and Allison Weinhold - Mis Clases Locas). For example, I love Allison’s CI approach to Starting the Year with High Frequency Words. Also, Google is our friend! Maris gave a ton of useful places to find #authres in her recent Secondary Spanish Space post on Incorporating Authentic Resources with novels.

In addition, there are tons of other teachers in the same boat as me. Many are just beginning the journey. I love to follow teachers on social media - my favorite is Instagram - to get the last tips and trends. A great Insta account to get started is @ciliftoff, @thecomprehensibleclassroom, and @misclaseslocas. You might also want to follow me (@lasecundaria_JAC), to see how my own journey as a newbie to CI progresses.

3. Plan

Planning your lessons is very important. I don’t know about you guys but I NEED that organization to help things go more smoothly. It’s also important because you may need props to help you communicate a message to your students. Sometimes you’ll be able to wing it when you have an idea. Other times you’ll want to describe something like .... and get stuck.

PREP. PREP... and MORE PREP! While drawing up lessons, I plan to decide what I want my students to eventually communicate. I will find a story or stories that help me provide input for those given structures in a way that is comprehensible for novice learners. Through use of repetition and comprehension questions; (sí o no) (correcto o incorrecto) and cognates, I plan to guide my students to comprehending what is being communicated in Spanish. 

4. Visuals

Visual, images, representations are VITAL for students in a CI classroom. Everything (almost) is in Spanish so students need that extra support.

If a word isn’t a cognate and I have no image or representation to help me understand, I can get very frustrated. The image or representation will help students make the connection to that image or moment with that word. I plan to have a PowerPoint presentation of images ready to facilitate comprehension of the messages.There also may be some very bad drawing attempts on the whiteboard. 

5. Games

FUN! Who doesn’t love to play games?! Games will be essential for students. Kids just want to have fun! By incorporating games into the lesson, students will be having fun, learning, and acquiring the language without realizing how much they are learning. Digital tools like Quizlet Live can be a great way to engage students with a little healthy competition, while keeping things CI focused (see Jen’s Secondary Spanish Space post on 7 Reasons to Love Quizlet Live for more).

What do you think?

These are the five things that stick out to me the most. I’d love to hear more from you though. What tips can you share for us teachers taking the plunge with CI this year?

I’m going to blog about my CI experience in the classroom and what I learn along the way! Be sure to join my in my journey on My Blog.

Jade Collins has experience teaching all levels of high school Spanish, including IB with a diverse student population. This year, as she takes on a new position at a middle college, she is embracing teaching with comprehensible input. To see how it goes, follow Jade's journey on her new blog, La secundaria.
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7 Things That Have Helped Me Grow Into a Better Teacher

Wednesday, August 8, 2018 / Leave a Comment
I'm about to start year 13 of my teaching career. Crazy right? I'm getting new furniture and so I've been trying to clean out my classroom even though I don't go back until September.  I've been purging a ton of junk: outdated student samples and curriculum binders I've been hanging on to for years. Filtering through them left me thinking how much I've grown in my years of teaching.  I wanted share some of the most important things that helped me become a better teacher.

Spanish with Sra. Shaw- 7 Things That Helped Me Grow Into a Better Teacher

1. Finding a Methodology I'm Passionate About

When we first start teaching, we replicate what we were exposed to in our own experiences as a student, in undergrad, or in our student teaching classroom.  For the first five years of teaching, I didn't even know what was a priority for me.  I simply followed the textbook and came up with assessments the night before I gave the test.  I'm seriously, seriously embarrassed of the teacher I was circa 2005-2010. 

Thank goodness I encountered some amazing professional development sessions and a curriculum director who pushed me to evaluate my methods.  I remember the day that my district World Language curriculum coordinator said that I could use the text, but then handed me a curriculum map that required IPAs (integrated performance assessments) and didn't even remotely follow the textbook sequence.  Was I supposed to teach these concepts through osmosis? "Figure it out", she said. And, surprisingly, figure it out, I did. 

I discovered that I didn't need a textbook to teach. I found that I loved seeing what my students could DO with the language using IPAs rather than just what they KNEW ABOUT the language using traditional textbook grammar-based assessments.  It's crazy to say that I've been using and refining IPAs for over a decade and I'm constantly improving not only the assessments themselves, but my daily teaching practices. The growth I've seen in myself and my students' abilities is incredible. 

Read more about my IPA journey here.  If you want to try out IPAs, you seriously have to try this Greetings & Introductions IPA too start out the year! My kids love it and I know you will, too. 

2. Becoming a CHAMPion of Classroom Management 

When I got my first teaching job, I had just turned 22 years old. My students were mostly 17 and 18 and they ate me alive.  To put it bluntly, I sucked at classroom management.  Through no fault of their own, my students didn't respect me and I was an ineffective teacher as a result. Through experience, God's grace, and some thoughtfully implemented strategies, I'm now proud to say that classroom management is one of my best skills thanks to the CHAMPS model. 

If you haven't heard of it, the CHAMPS classroom management model is amazing and I detail what makes it unique and effective here.  It made me reconsider all of the things I wanted students to do in the classroom and how I explained and upheld those expectations.  Even if you're pretty good at classroom management, I really encourage you to look at CHAMPS and see how you can be even better! 

There's nothing better than a smoothly running class where everyone is doing what they should be doing.  It improves your sanity, your effectiveness, and your students' learning.  Want to improve your classroom management? To have your best year yet, I encourage you to read my "10 Classroom Management Tips for a Smooth School Year!"

3. Finally Planning Effective Lessons

This is a horrible thing to admit.  I can't believe I'm going to tell you my most embarrassing teacher truth. I didn't lesson plan, like at all, for the first five years of my career. GASP. I know. Why did I live such a stressed out existence for so long?  The thing is, I was so overwhelmed at my first job, I didn't know where to begin. My school had 2 hour blocks 5 days a week and I had 3 different preps! I had to plan 10 hours of activities for each class and so I just decided to wing it.  You can probably imagine that I wasn't the most awesome beginning teacher.

Fast forward 13 years. Now I'm am an OCD type of lesson planner to the extent that I often have 2-3 weeks of lessons planned out in advance. After being so stressed out for years, I had a complete pendulum swing. The quality of my professional life, my sanity, and of my teaching is so much better.

I started out using a super old-school lesson planning book that I just gave up this past school year because I could never find a digital system that worked for me. I'm pretty tech savvy, so my colleagues would audibly scoff at my lesson planning book. Enter  No, I don't work for them or get any sort of kickback, but I LOVE their lesson planning system. You can set it up any way you want, link to or upload files, and access it from anywhere, including the app on my phone. It costs a whopping $12 a year, but you can try it for a month for free.

It's amazing how much better my teaching is now that I carefully plan out each day with a warm-up, various learning activities, a wrap-up.  Plus, I constantly focus how these activities are going  to help students achieve learning goals and the skills necessary to rock an IPA.  It takes practice and patience and I'm definitely still improving, but the time spent lesson planning effective lessons is key. This isn't news to you as we all learn this in undergrad, but I learned the hard way.


4. Finding a PLN (Professional Learning Network) I Love

For the most part, I've been the only Spanish teacher in my building for the past decade. I've had a couple of part-time colleagues with whom I've been fortunate enough to collaborate, but I've missed having a partner.

To avoid working in a vacuum, I made it a priority to find a PLN (professional learning network) where I could learn new things, bounce ideas off of others, and grow as an educator.

I personally prefer Facebook groups (Spanish Teachers in the US is my favorite) and checking out different blogs that inspire me.  Our own Catharyn Crane (AKA Sol Azúcar) wrote an awesome post about how to collaborate with Spanish teachers on social media that you should check out if you need a PLN too!

If you haven't already, find your digital tribe.  My biggest professional fear is becoming out of touch with current trends in WL methodology so I want to immerse myself in current best practices and I know you do, too.

5. Learning How To Learn From My Students

You know what I didn't learn in undergrad education classes? That some of my best teachers would be my students.  Students give us positive and negative feedback all the time, but it isn't always the easiest to hear.

When students are doing well, we pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves on a job well done, but learning how to help our kids when they're struggling is a whole different story.

There are so many ways to get feedback from students, but it's important to find a method that works for you.  I find formative assessment (exit slips, think-pair-shares, polls, etc.) to be particularly helpful and one of the least intimidating ways for students to tell us what we're doing well and when they need more support.

Another option is to give explicit anonymous surveys, which I was once required to give as part of my evaluation. Some comments stung, but others were unexpected and helpful.  If you've never given an end-of-term survey, I highly recommend it as you might learn a lot about how your students perceive you.  

6. Using Good Feedback

I know most people hate evaluations and I totally get it.  Most feedback we receive is punitive.  However, if they're done correctly, evaluations should provide you with effective feedback from which you can actually learn.  Honestly,  in 13 years, I've only received beneficial feedback twice in my entire career, but when I did, it was inspiring and helped me grow.

At my previous district, there were two contracted retired master teachers that came in and provided feedback to all non-tenured teacher.  I absolutely thrived because not only was I hearing what was going well, but they described ways to do things even better.  Each time I heard their recommendations, I tried to make sure I worked on those aspects of my teaching so that the next time they visited my classroom, I had improved. 

Now, I know this sounds like an unheard of scenario. However, I've found that when we tell our administrators what we want them to look for and provide ideas of how to improve in these areas, we're more likely to get the kind of feedback we need to grow.

7. Getting Organized (Finally!) 

If you're anything like me, when I started teaching I was so overwhelmed I didn't know where to begin.  I didn't know how to organize my thoughts, my lesson plans, my students' papers, my teaching materials or anything else.  I'd create activity files, but never organize them either digitally or in binders and then I'd have to completely recreate them the next time around.  I had piles of papers to grade and no system for collecting, grading, or returning them.  Things had to change.

Every teacher has their own system and it takes a little guess-and-test to figure out what does and doesn't work.  I tried so many different ways of organizing things before I finally found the perfect method to collect and pass back papers, keep track of all of the things I had to do, and organize all of my lessons.  Doing so has helped me become more efficient so that I can spend my time doing valuable tasks instead re-doing things I'd already done.

Next Steps

So there you have it, the 7 things that have most helped me develop into a better teacher over the last 13 school years.  Certainly all of these didn't develop at once, so I think it's best to pick one or two items to focus on for the upcoming school year. Which of these do you need the most? Which seems the most manageable? Here are some additional links to help with some of the topics discussed above:

Spanish with Sra. Shaw- 7 Things That Helped Me Grow Into a Better Teacher

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Back to Spanish Class: Change Your Thinking about Conjugating Verbs and Focus on Communication This Year

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 / 1 comment
Back to Spanish Class:  Change Your Thinking about Conjugating Verbs and Focus on Communication This Year

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Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words

Tuesday, July 10, 2018 / Leave a Comment
Does anyone else stress out with what to do the first weeks of Spanish class!?! I have tried many ways to start the year, but for the first time ever, I am planning to use the same way as I did last year. I do not think that I am alone in over-thinking that first week. We want everything to be perfect to set the stage for 180 wonderful days together. 

Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words - Mis Clases Locas shared on Secondary Spanish Space

Here are a few of my previous first week plans. 

As you can see, each year I have tweaked my plans to try and find that sweet spot. To be honest, they all worked well to fit the particular situation of the moment. If you are trying to incorporate more tech, moving to proficiency and a student led class, the 1st Week of Spanish - daily plans using stations would be the best fit. If you have a group of students who are new to you, my absolute favorite first day activity is Name Game Speedball. I have done it with 7th-12th graders and all you need is a ball. If you are moving towards a more comprehensible input class, focusing on high frequency verbs, keep on reading for more. 

Why high frequency verbs?

If you want your students to be able to communicate, using verbs that are common to language is a great place to start. I used to spend the first month of Spanish 1 doing the "introduction textbook chapter," which was filled with long lists of things like days of the week, numbers, months, and colors to memorize out of context. And what could they do after that month? Well my students could translate a list of words, but they could not talk about things that they cared about in Spanish. Once I moved to teaching with stories and novels, I realized my students did not know many words that kept coming up over and over like goes, wants or there is. I knew that something had to change in how I started the year.

Which words to focus on?

There are many lists out there if you consult the top words used in a language. Terry Waltz coined the popular term the Super 7 verbs (in Spanish - es, tiene, le gusta, hay, está, va a & quiere). Mike Peto expanded that to the Sweet 16, adding additional important verbs as well. With my Spanish 1, I decided to start with Super 7 in the present tense. I chose these words since they led perfectly to the first novel we read, El capibara con botas. I would backwards plan teaching high frequency verbs that are used in your end goal. 

What can I do with these words?

Honestly, if the words are commonly used in a language, you can do anything with them! Create a story with them, find very simple memes that use them in context, or ask personalized questions. What I have found works the best for me, is to do special person interviews. (To learn more about persona especial interviews, check out the blog of the creator Bryce Hedstrom). 

How can I implement personal interviews with high frequency words?

After doing this unit last year five separate times (Spanish 1 and four quarters of middle school exploratory), here is the formula that I have found works best. On day 1 of class we do Name Game Speedball and then start our first interview on day 2 (yes this can work on their second day of language class ever!). We add in 1st week logistics like syllabus, join Google classroom, etc in a stations format as we have extra time at the end of classes the first week. 

Students sit in a semi circle without anything on their laps. They do not take notes during the interviews and their job is to listen to understand and interact. I jot down notes on the whiteboard as we go. (Or you could have this as a student job). Here is how the class typically flows.

  • Introduce focus vocabulary of the day, which is written on my side board to reference. (We start with just the I, you and s/he forms, as that is what is needed in the interviews. You can add the others later).
  • I ask the special person personalized questions using that target structure in a slideshow (idea from Kara Jacobs). I use my clicker, which prompts their first person answer. The the class chorally states the information back. We circle the information until we feel comfortable to move on. 
  • Once we are done interviewing, we give the student a positive validation and do a brain break. For each target structure I have a song with many repetitions of that structure (For example with soy it is the song "Soy yo."). Here are a couple ways we have used the song:
    • Students tally the number of times they hear the word
    • Students stand up and jump every time they hear the word
    • Students raise their hand every time they hear the word
    • Students stand up every time they hear the word
  • Then students grab either a blank piece of paper or a guided notes sheet (if they need more support) and a clipboard and take down the notes over our special person that are written on the board. Or you could have students work with a partner to write down as much as they can without using any notes from the board. 
  • At that point depending on how much time is left, we may do another interview using the same questions, or go on to do a different activity. There might be some first week logistics, or other content that the teacher is required to "cover." I know some teachers have used this unit as a review or with heritage speakers, going quite quick through all questions, and interviewing many people in a day. 

What else do you do with these words?

We do a few days of interviews, and then break it up with a story using the same vocabulary in a new and fresh way. We do some activities with the story, and then return to do more interviews, ending with an assessment. Sometimes we do a mid-way assessment, where I list the students who have gone and list a few interesting facts in Spanish that they need to match up. To review for the assessments, or to come back to the vocabulary later in the year, I have a Find Someone Who to interview many people in class or just a partner, which would be perfect for a substitute plan during the unit. At the end, we do a free write, where they write everything they can about a person of their choice. 

What about upper levels?

You could absolutely start Spanish 2 with the Super 7 unit as a review. It would help build confidence, build a positive classroom community and give everyone a solid base. I would start with more questions right away and move on as the group is ready. You could also go right into the Sweet 16, expanding even more with le da, le dice, hace, puede, pone, sabe, sale, trae, ve, oye, viene. 

For Spanish 3 and 4 you could do a similar unit to start the year in the past tense with either imperfect or preterite. Another teacher told me she has students send her pictures of themselves as kids to project and add something extra special to the past tense interviews. If you want all 3 of the Super 7 units, along with the accompanying Find Someone Who activities, the Super 7 Bundle is available. You can see in my Curriculum plan for this year that I plan to start Spanish 1 with Super 7 present, Spanish 2 with Sweet 16, Spanish 3 with imperfect and Spanish 4 with preterite. 

What if I am new to CI?

What I have found that is so great about these high frequency units is they have helped many teachers who are newer to CI techniques to feel more comfortable with doing special person interviews. The structure of having planned questions and not having to think as much on your feet is comforting to those starting out. For those with more experience, it provides a starting point, to which you can extemporaneously add more as needed. I have been amazed at what my students can write in Spanish without any notes after just a couple weeks of Spanish class. More importantly, learning about each other (while staying in Spanish!) builds a positive classroom community foundation for the rest of the year. 

Back to Spanish Class: How to start the year with High Frequency Words - Mis Clases Locas shared on Secondary Spanish Space
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Incorporating Authentic Resources with Novels

Tuesday, June 26, 2018 / 4 comments

For this guest post, we are pleased to have Maris Hawkins, a middle and upper school Spanish teacher with an awesome blog hat we just love (definitely check out Maris' blog after you read this post!). Maris is doing some really creative things with novels and innovative technologies in her classroom, all while teaching to proficiency. We hope you enjoy this special guest post about her suggestions for how to incorporate authentic resources with novels.

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Let's Make Next Year BETTER

Tuesday, June 12, 2018 / Leave a Comment
Have you started reflecting on this past school year as it winds down, or are you not ready yet? Was it #bestever, #worstever, or somewhere in between?

Set aside some time this summer (the sooner the better - while the year is still fresh in your mind) for some serious reflection. What went well? What didn't go so well? Be honest and don't beat yourself up - the perfect teacher does not exist.

First of all, if you are a first year teacher then please give yourself a round of applause. The first year is hhhaaarrrddd. For everyone.

In fact, if you want to take a minute to celebrate getting through your first year, please do. I'll wait.


Reflection Time

Think about allllllll the details.

  • What is the start of your class like? What are you doing when the bell rings? What are kids doing when the bell rings? (Do your routines make things run smoothly?)
  • How do you take attendance? (Is it easy and fast for you?  Do you forget every other day?)
  • How do you transition between activities? (Do kids stay on task? Or is that when you lose them?)
  • How much English do YOU speak during class? (Do you get anywhere close to that 90% goal?) How can you hold yourself accountable next year?
  • How much English do your kids speak during class? How can you hold them more accountable next year?
  • What types of activities do kids love and stay engaged with?
  • What types of activities bombed?
  • How do you conclude your class periods? (How do kids know it's time to pack up? Do you give them an exit ticket or use other strategies to close?)
  • How do you collect and pass back work? (Is it easy and efficient?)
  • What are your routines for grading papers in a (hopefully) timely manner?
  • What (if any) topics did you spend too much time on?  What (if any) topics did you not spend enough time on or not get to?
  • How much time per week did you spend on grading? Or on planning? How can you make these tasks more efficient?
  • How often did you reach out to parents? How can you communicate more effectively next year about their child's progress?

Start with what went well.  

Write everything down! You probably won't remember these details in August once Back to School season rolls around. (Guys, that time is gonna come back around. You can't avoid it.)

Those kids wouldn't have learned Spanish without you! But besides that, what routines did you put in place that made your classroom run more smoothly? What kids did you connect with that behaved better for you than for their other teachers?

Make a list and think about what you definitely want to keep doing next year.


Think about routines that you can tweak or improve next year. 

One year I decided that the consequence for forgetting to bring your notebook to class and having to leave class to go get it, was that I would turn your desk upside down and you'd have to turn it right-side up when you got back. It was annoying and silly enough to encourage kids to remember their notebooks. However, it led to kids turning each other's desks upside down all the time because they thought it was hilarious. I did not do that again the following year. #fail #chaos #badidea #truestory

What were your "I'll turn their desks upside down" ideas? (Please do share in the comments if they're funny!) Think about how you can tweak those ideas for next year. Maybe you can let kids who regularly forget their notebooks keep them in your classroom, or you can take away points for forgetting your notebook, or you can give points to everyone who brings their notebook, or you can have a buddy remind them. Think about what will be easy for you and the routines you already have in place!


Really take your time pondering and thinking. Bounce ideas off of a teacher friend. Check out this post for a refresher on classroom management. 

Extra Credit for the people who love planning (i.e. My People!):

Re-work your long-range plans from last year for this coming school year. Delete that stupid project you did that resulted in a paper ball fight breaking out in your classroom (I KNOW that hasn't only happened in my classroom). Think about how you can add more activities that students loved and how you can cover the entire curriculum if you didn't do that this year. 
  • Are you thinking about incorporating a Baile Viernes in your classroom? 
  • Do your kids love coloring activities even half has much as mine ever did?
  • Have you ever thought about teaching a novel?
  • Do you want to start using task cards
  • Are you going to keep track of participation with "pesos" next year? (This actually is a nightmare to keep track of in my experience, so I wish you the best of luck if you decide to go down this road.)
  • Does the idea of interactive notebooks sound fun?
  • Would your kids just love listening to Spanish music in class?
  • Can you keep kids engaged with more authentic resources in your classroom?
  • Do you need more ideas for listening activities you can use in a pinch?

Reflection is a crucial part of being better each year. Please comment below if you have any questions or want to bounce ideas off of anyone, if you have previously had any lightbulb moments in past years you want to share, or if you have ever turned kids' desks upside down as a consequence.

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Free Professional Development for Spanish Teachers

Tuesday, May 29, 2018 / 2 comments

Are you looking for free professional development for Spanish teachers? I have put together a list of fantastic resources- at no cost!- so you can up your game in your Spanish classroom. From twitter chats, to podcasts, essential Facebook groups and the best books to read: learn how rockstar teachers are teaching Spanish proficiency in their classes, see their proven techniques and activities, and collaborate and make connections with teachers around the world.

Twitter Chats for Spanish Teachers

You might be on twitter, but have you considered it as free professional development for Spanish teachers? From chats to hashtags, I have a complete guide to twitter for teachers here (plus PD for teachers of ESL and other languages). I am really active on twitter, and absolutely love following other teachers! Follow me at @kidworldcitizen and join the twitter chats below to dive into free professional development, and phenomenal connections with teachers around the world!!! Chats are virtual conversations that happen on a schedule. You will get onto twitter at the correct time (check the time zone!) and look for the hashtag in the search bar (for example #langchat). Keep refreshing to keep up with the conversation :). Of if you're super advanced, use tweetdeck to follow along and join in. The "hosts" will give you the question in this format:
The Q1, means it's the first question. So when you answer, you should include an A1 (answer 1, or whichever question you are answering), plus the hashtag. Don't forge the hashtag, or everyone who is following will miss your tweet :).

Here are some Spanish teacher favorites:

#langchat: 7pm CST Thursday (I believe in the summer it turns into #langbook, a virtual PD book club)

#earlylang: 7pm CST Wednesday

#charlaele1 10am CST every other Saturday

#mexedchat (Bilingual Ed Chat) 9pm CST Monday

#globaledchat 7pm CST Thursday 

Podcasts for World Language Teachers

Podcasts were my new favorite thing the past few years!!! I listen when I take my daily walk, or when I am driving, or when I am cleaning up, or cooking dinner... you get the idea. You can just have them playing in the background or on your phone- I learn SO MUCH!!!!! Beware- you will have so many "driveway moments"- where you get home from your walk and want to turn it off to start grading or playing with the kids..... but it has sucked you in and you have to listen to the end. Once you find one you love, subscribe on itunes or wherever you listen to podcasts. The specialized podcasts below offer incredible professional development for Spanish teachers!

Cult of Pedagogy. This is my all-time favorite, general podcast for teachers. I absolutely love hearing the perspectives of other teachers, and learning about "Frickin' Packets," Educator Masterminds, or Self-Care for Teachers.

Language Latte: A Conversation about Teaching World Languages. Topics include everything from getting students to speak in class, to reaching early language learners, to tech tools for language educators. The Language Latte facebook group for world language teachers chats about best practices, methodology, fun activities, and tips to help your students become more fluent and reach proficiency faster. Full disclosure: this is me!!!! :) I started the podcast because I am currently teaching and living in Mexico and need to keep up with current research and best practices. I am having so much fun with this and love meeting language teachers around the world (let me know if you have an idea or want to be on the show!).

Inspired Proficiency, from Desk Free with Profe Ashley. Topics include establishing a target language environment to using interpersonal activities in class. Great ideas and take aways for language educators- her games at the end of each episode are super fun!!

We Teach Languages is a podcast that explores language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers. Recent topics include thematic units, multiliteracies, and welcoming new arrivals.

Even though Tea with BVP isn't adding new episodes, the archives offer a treasure trove of resources for language teachers. Topics include fossilization input processing, and the role of feedback. He will start at a new show August, 2018,"While We're On the Topic."

The Musicuentos Black Box "is a collection of 12 videocasts designed to address a great disconnect in world language teaching: the lack of effective communication between researchers investigating how people learn language and the teachers working to help those people develop communicative language skills," developed by a team of five world language educators.

Radio Ambulante is fabulous to keep up with your Spanish while listening to fascinating stories and current events.

Facebook Groups for PD

What is the advantage of Facebook groups? INSTANT answers to your questions :). If you want to figure out a better way to review vocabulary, or deal with assessments, or learn about new techniques: join one (or all!) of these Facebook groups and ask new and experienced teachers how they handle certain situations in their classroom. The invaluable advice has pushed me to incorporate totally new ideas that I never would have thought of. I absolutely feel a part of the Spanish teacher community and consider many of the frequent posters as my friends. Especially since I live abroad and cannot get to as many conferences now, I consider Facebook group to be more than just a social media tool: it is a tool for professional development for Spanish teachers.

Woology—Sr. Wooly Teachers

AP Spanish Lit


CI Liftoff 

Language Latte: Chatting about Teaching World Languages

Fluency Matters Novels

How Do You Say? - For Spanish Teachers

Teaching with El Internado

PD Books for Summer Reading

This post is about FREE professional development for Spanish teachers, and often these books are available at your library, in your department or school, or even through an interlibrary loan at a local university. These are guaranteed to give you a different perspective in your classroom, using effective techniques to engage more students, and get more organized.

Teach Like a Champion, 2.0: Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. This best-seller by Doug Lemov shares techniques for classroom management, students engagement, and tips from top teachers around the world.

The Cornerstone: Classroom Management That Makes Teaching More Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable Paperback. By Angela S. Powell, this books helps you organize your classroom and lessons, stay on task, and reduce burn-out.

The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher Paperback. Harry K. Wong,‎ Rosemary T. Wong have sold 4 million copies of this, the best-selling book ever on classroom management and teaching for student achievement. "The book walks a teacher, either novice or veteran, through structuring and organizing a classroom for success that can be applied at any time of the year at any grade level, pre-K through college."

The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners by Homa Tavangar and Becky Morales give us hundreds of easy, stand-alone activities, resources, and projects to teach kids all about culture and global awareness in any class: service projects, #edtech collaborations with schools around the world, activities for cultural fairs, and more.

The World Language Daily Tech Guide. Ellen Shrager shares how technology can help you support the 90% target language goal from ACTFL for all levels including the most challenging.

The Language Teacher Toolkit. Steven Smith‎ and Gianfranco Conti offer practical activities for the world language classroom that are detailed and researched-based.

In Differentiated Instruction: A Guide for World Language Teachers (Eye on Education Books), "author Deborah Blaz helps you differentiate lessons for your world language students based on their learning styles, interests, prior knowledge, and comfort zones."

Fluency Through TPR Storytelling Paperback, by Contee Seely and‎ Blaine Ray will either be the definitive introduction to TPRS for you, or a great refresher course.

Languages and Learners: Making the Match: World Language Instruction in K-8 Classrooms and Beyond by Helena I. Curtain and Carol Ann A. Dahlberg is an introduction text to teaching world languages. Fantastic for *new* teachers who want to review or learn more before they get into the classroom.

How To Talk So Kids Can Learn Paperback by Adele Faber and‎ Elaine Mazlish is similar to the other books in the series (which I love!) except it focuses on reaching kids in the classroom. If you want to build better relationships with your students, this is a great place to start.

The Story of Spanish. In this fascinating books, Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow present the history of the language. I love linguistic history and evolution, and love that this book brings it right to the present time. I always teach kids a bit about the history of Spanish, and they are usually surprised and excited to learn.

In While We're On the Topic: BVP on Language, Acquisition, and Classroom Practice, "Bill VanPatten addresses principles related to the nature of communication, the nature of language, how language is acquired, the roles of input and interaction, tasks and activities, and focus on form ("grammar")."

What free professional development for teachers have I missed? Is there a Facebook group I should belong to? A book I should be reading or a podcast I should be listening to? Leave your favorite free resources in the comments, so we can all learn from each other! 

Free Professional Development for Spanish Teachers- Kid World Citizen

(Becky is an ESL and Spanish teacher. She started and co-authored the Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners to give parents and teachers activities to teach kids about world cultures and languages. She recently began the Language Latte Podcast, where she shares research and best practices for world language teachers. Becky is living in Mexico with her 5 kids, and loves sharing resources and connecting to parents and teachers around the world @kidworldcitizen on Teachers Pay Teachers, Facebook and twitter.)
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