Reading “Cajas de cartón” Without “Reading”


In Spanish 4 we are working our way through Francisco Jimenez’s “Cajas de cartón”.  It’s been great fun and the students are doing wonderful working through the text but I could tell yesterday that they were a bit burnt out after we worked through the first few pages of chapter 2, Soledad.  I had to find some other way to work with the text that didn’t involve so much traditional reading.

I recently saw this post by Martina Bex (@MartinaBex) on her blog, The Comprehensible Classroom (which you should check out if you haven’t!) and was inspired.  I photocopied page 11 of the book and cut it into six smaller chunks.  I then drew a picture for each chunk of the page.  I only had 4 students in class so it was easy to give each student a copy.  I had them work on their own to 1) pair the picture to the text and 2) put them in what they thought was a logical order picking up where we left off yesterday in the story.  I emphasized that they didn’t need to read and understand the entire chunk of text but rather just find key words to help them match things up.  In my pictures I intentionally included images of key words we knew such as “gato”, “dormir” and “difícil”.  Students didn’t know the whole passage but they could figure out enough to match things up.

Next, students walked around and looked at how others had matched up the items and what order they had put them in.  They all had the first 3 events the same but differed on the last 3.  Then we went through as a class and checked the pairing and order.  The students talked it out on their own and came to a unanimous, correct decision for the last 3 events.

Then I paired them up to use the pictures and text to come up with an English version of what happened, encouraging them to look for details in the text and pictures.  I then switched the pairs and they told their stories.

Finally we went over the pictures and text in detail as a class and I pointed out key words and ideas to them.

As a wrap up activity and a nice state change, we played pictionary.  I displayed three excerpts from the text we had just worked with that contained key words and phrases we had narrowed in on and the person drawing chose one to draw and their partner guessed which one.

With a few minutes left, I had them write a quick prediction of what they thought would happen next in the story and we shared them to build anticipation for next time.

The students did great, had fun and were creative.  It was a great way to progress in the story and use the text but in a less daunting way. I think I will continue to do a section each chapter this way and even adapt it in the future to have the students create the pictures for a piece of the literature and set up stations.  I think it would be a great way to review the chapter.  Check out the materials page if you’d like to see what I used for this lesson.

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH.


Makin’ Salsa


Just wanted to post a few pictures quick of the recipes my students created from the “Makin’ Salsa” video.  I ended up having them work in groups, watch the video, brainstorm vocab, watch again to see if they could pick up even more vocab, and one last time paying attention to the steps of the recipe and the verbs.

Next they worked in groups of  2 or 3 and made some salsa posters.  Many put their own spin on it.  Lots of recalled vocab like “cut”,  “wash” and “dry” as well  Great use of focus vocab like “add” and “mix” and lots of focus nouns!


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Finding the Balance


Here we are entering the 4th week of 100% TL.  My how time flies when you’re teaching all in Spanish!  The test scores came out better than I had expected.  I also shifted my focus from perfect grammar to communication for the section in which the students had to write me instructions.  I graded them based on 1) Did I find the correct location?  2) Was I confused by any part of their instructions?  3) Did they include enough vocab (had to have 5 target words) to provide a clear picture of where I was going.  For example, Turn left, your destination is on the north west corner next to the cafe.  A description like that leaves no question of where I should be.  This change in grading focus brings me to my next topic: Finding the Balance.

I am a stickler for proper grammar, always have been, always will be.  I want my students to understand the grammar of a language.  I hold this belief because I firmly believe that if you understand the grammar (conjugation charts, etc) you can apply that to any word thereby opening up your ability to use any vocabulary.  I realize there are differing schools of thought on this and the fact that this was how I learned (and it worked/works for me) doesn’t mean it is how everyone should and/or does learn.  This point is emphasized by the fact that I have some students excelling in this new 100% TL format that didn’t do as well in the mostly English format I was using.

My new quest: to find the balance between grammar focus and communication focus.

I know that some students will not study Spanish past high school.  Their time in my classroom will be their only study of a language other than English.  For those students I want them to walk out of here with a working knowledge of basic Spanish that they will be able to use after high school.  I have other students that I know will go on and continue to study Spanish or another language and I want them to have a strong academic grammatical background.  I can argue that they will get the grammar in college but would like for them to be well prepared for it.  So there is my challenge, satisfy both sides of me (communication and the grammar stickler) and equip my students with a good balance as well.  Here’s how I’m attempting to do this.

Last week we started a new chapter around food and formal commands.  Vocab was easy enough to handle.  Friday we started usted/ustedes commands.  I introduced this by giving students a recipe in Spanish (see materials page for the recipe) with certain words bolded/italicized/underlined and told them to find the meaning.  They worked alone first, then with a partner, then with another group and finally we reviewed as a class.  I then wrote the inifinitive of the verb and the command form and asked them what looked odd (e.g. batir > bata) and they noticed that even though it was an -ir verb it had -ar endings.  We did a few more examples and I then gave them the steps for making a formal command for them to write on notes 1. Go to “yo” 2. Drop the “o” 3. Add the opposite ending.  They had already figured out the opposite ending part of course and I used some yo-go verbs like Poner and Tener to drive home the importance and provide examples of step 1, “Go to yo”.

Today I did a mix of structured CLOZE activities which we reviewed and I worked one-on-one with students who still had some questions.  Next, I had them write a simple recipe in Spanish for mashed potatoes.  This was modeled from one of the structured activities we did.  I could tell that at first the students liked the structure in order to make sure they were doing it right but once they had it figured out, they needed a more fun challenge and in came the mashed potatoes.  They had fun putting their own twists on the recipe (garlic, lots of pepper, no milk, etc) and were super engaged and turned out some great simple recipes.  This is a nice segway into tomorrows activity in which we will watch a stop action video of salsa being made, brainstorm vocab they see, create a list, then build the recipe in Spanish.  I will have them work on their own then with a partner, then check for grammar correctness as a large class by writing some of their steps on the board.  I may have them create the salsa recipes on large sheets of paper around the room in groups of 3-4 as they work.

All in all, I feel like I’m starting to accept that communication is great even when the grammar isn’t perfect and I can still pick one or two things from each chapter to really focus on for grammar.  Like I said, it’s a learning experience for me.  This is all new and I’ll continue to work on finding a balance.  How do you balance these two concepts?  Are there other areas in your teaching you struggle to balance?

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH.

The Honeymoon’s Over


It’s official.  The honeymoon is over.  Today marked the end of the second full week of 100% TL in my classroom.  All and all it was a great week but it is apparent that we’ve entered into the challenging portion of this process.  In my last post I listed my tentative lesson plans for the week.  Here’s how this week ended up:

Monday: I found that students hadn’t completed Friday’s assignment from when I was gone so a good chunk of the day was devoted to that.  Students started working on their giant maps in groups.

Tuesday: Students finished maps then wrote and followed a set of directions from place to place on their map.  Highlight of the week, “I like doing this.  It actually makes sense to me now.” – Student

Wednesday: We had a snow day.

Thursday: We reviewed commands to practice directions and “texted” using white boards to practice our main verbs.  We also labeled our giant maps with the vocab.

Friday: Test day!!!

My Fail Day
I failed this week on Thursday.  I made the instructions too much about me talking and much more complicated than they needed to be.  I should have modeled better using a group of students as an example.  I also should have organized the whole day differently.  Immediately after class I felt drained and discouraged.  We got where we needed to go but it took too long and resulted in too much confusion.  However, I reflected and know how I will avoid this in the future.

We run a shortened schedule on Fridays and only two students finished the test.  Although the test was shorter than other tests it was harder because it required students to complete authentic tasks which was something new and, as we know, takes much more thought than filling in some blanks (drill and fill).  I am going to grade the sections students completed and we will finish the test on Monday.  It was evident that students were a bit frazzled by having to face this sort of exam.  I had great questions from them and could see the wheels turning in their heads as they tried to apply the language to real-life situations.

While I haven’t started grading the exams, I have a feeling the scores might be low.  I feel good about the exam though because it presented real challenges that I faced while living abroad utilizing directions and city places.  Depending on how things shake out, we may end up spending class time going through the exam and correcting it then retaking it or creating skits in some form or another to reinforce this type of assessment.

What I already love about this is I saw students using what they knew.  There wasn’t just one correct answer.  Students could create any answer they wanted using whatever words they knew.  This really let people’s personalities shine through which I can tell they enjoyed.  Just from walking around I can tell you the exams featured: Chuck Norris, “J’s” (Air Jordan shoes), milk, ice cream, golden statues, and lots of celebrity names.

A lot of the students felt challenged by the test.  I don’t want to say “discouraged” because they weren’t upset or down on themselves but I think they got a wake up call on how hard it is to think and function in a second language when you’re just beginning to do that.  I believe that as we continue with this type of assessment, students will become more confident.

In our next unit we enter food vocab and formal commands.  It should be interesting.  Hello realia!  If you’re interested in what the exam looked like, you can find a copy of it on my new Materials page.  Please bear with me as I am a beginning blogger and working on how to post materials.

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH.

P.S. Here are some pictures of the students making maps.  I bought little cars at the dollar store for them to drive around while following directions from a partner.

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