Managing “That” Class


I am entering week 4 of teaching my 7th grade exploratory Spanish class.  Last year I struggled with junior high since I had no set curriculum and it was my first year teaching.  I was lost to say the least.  This year is SO much better!  I gave up on the outdated textbook I tried to follow last year and instead sat down and asked, “What are the basic building blocks I want to give these kids in Spanish?”  I settled on:

-meeting new people

Now, four weeks in, I think some of that will be changing.  We’ve covered numbers 1-20 and are going to work on 20-60 for time this week.  We’ve done colors and alphabet and will start meeting new people later on this week.  From there I think I’ll see what the students want to learn or where their questions lead me.  I recycle our past knowledge a lot to keep it fresh and students are beginning to  integrate past knowledge into our new activities on their own and tell me what color the clocks are or how many there are.

This class is “that class”.  I am the last teacher in the rotation to have them this year and was warned that they would be a handful and probably my least favorite class.  They are an energetic handful, true.  They are not that motivated by grades or points.  They struggled in other classes to complete assignments and put forth effort.  I have had some students not put forth much effort but they are in the minority and some of them have other factors such as ELL and learning differences contributing to that.

Students that I know tend to struggle in their other classes are doing great in Spanish!  I contribute this to the fact that I have ditched the textbook.  I am challenging them a lot by using lots of Spanish and CI.  I give them a lot to do in activities.  Most activities have involved listening to Spanish and speaking in complete Spanish sentences.  I provide them the stems and they fill in the rest.  I’ve only had to correct students and tell them to use the full Spanish sentences twice in three weeks.  They enthusiastically use the language and ask questions about how to expand upon it.  This is a group that is motivated by doing.  By being challenged.  That would not be happening if I was just using textbook activities.  I am choosing to focus on communication rather than grammar and spelling.  I am spending a lot more time on speaking and listening than I have in the past.  This is a class that wants to talk so why not let them!

“That class” has become one of my favorites.  I do have to stay on top of them when it comes to routines and making sure they know exactly what they should be doing but they do exactly what I ask and more without many issues.  They enthusiastically participate and use TL even when I don’t ask!  I will be leaving my current school at the end of this year and I regret that I will not be able to continue with this class who is quickly earning a special place in my teacher’s heart.

So, if you find yourself in the position of not knowing what to teach or where to begin.  Start with a simple question, “What do I want these students to be able to do when they leave my class?”.  You’ll find it goes quite smoothly from there.

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH


Let’s Go to the Movies!


Spanish 3 is working through a movie unit now.  I was gone Monday (no Spanish-speaking subs around me) so had students copy new vocab and do some book activities to get familiar with it then gave them a PQA (Personal Questions and Answers) sheet to expand.

Tuesday we did a Zachary Jones (@ZJonesSpanish) sheet about planning a night to the movies.  I had them expand and say what kind of movie it is, why they chose it, who the stars are, etc.

Wednesday I had students choose a a Spanish-language movie at random from the hat and they researched it and made a movie poster that told what type of movie it is, where it’s from, the actors, the director, a brief plot summary and any other interesting info they found on it.

Thursday for warm up, the students wrote a simple version of the plot of Cinderella.  Then students did a gallery walk of the posters and gathered info from the posters (name of movie, type, one sentence basic idea of plot).  We wrapped up with about 15 minute conversation circle (round 2) which went great.  Students were really into talking about movies and everyone got into the conversation.

My plans to assess the vocab of movies is an oral quiz.  I will give students a sheet with information about a familiar movie in English.   Next they will listen to recorded questions in Spanish from me about the movie.  I’ll ask things such as:  What kind of movie is it?  Will it make me laugh/cry/afraid?  Who are the stars in it?  What’s it about?  Students will then record their answers to the questions.  I’m choosing this type of assessment because I asked myself, what do we do with movies?  We talk about them!  We make recommendations!  We tell people the good parts or the bad parts and advise them if they should go or not.  We find common ground over movies and expand our horizons.  Next week we’ll be doing some practice prepping for this assessment before they do the “real” thing.  I’ll post an update on how this goes!

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH

Practicing the Alphabet


Here’s a quick post about an activity I’ll be doing next week to practice the alphabet with my 7th graders.

I wrote five letter Spanish words my students don’t know on index cards.  The cards are written in the following format:

I will tape a card to each student’s back so they can’t see it.  Student will have to walk around and ask their classmates, “¿Qué es letra uno?”, “¿Qué es letra dos?”, etc.  They can only ask each person one letter.  They will write down the letters as they go.  To up the fun factor we may use our small white boards because they love that or I may have them each pick a colored piece of construction paper or marker or crayon.  The colored items would be a good opportunity to reinforce colors.  Once they think they know they have to check with me to see if they are correct.  If they are they will sit down and look up to see what their word means.

I choose words from the 1000 most common Spanish words.  I have 17 students so thought a five letter word would be a good length.   If the activity goes really quickly, I’ll swap the cards and give students a different word to do.  Hopefully this activity goes well.  If I remember, I will add on and let you know how it ends up!

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH

Conversation Circle: 1st Attempt


A week or so ago I had the good fortune to run across this post by Amy Lenard (@alenord) about conversation circles.  I’d been trying to come up with good ways to get my students talking in a natural way.  We’ve been studying food so I choose food/restaurants as our topic.  I introduced the main idea of what we’d be doing and gave students 5 minutes to write 3 questions in Spanish.  I made sure to emphasize that they should not be close ended questions.  We wanted to facilitate conversation.  I have 14 students so it was easy to do as a big group.  I handed out expectations in English and a list of helpful phrases to guide them.

At first I had a few shy ones that were a bit overwhelmed and/or lost.  If had one student ask, “What if we have no clue what anyone is saying?”.  I told her that if that was the case, she should listen and focus on picking out words she knew and that if she didn’t understand people’s answers she could take charge and ask one of her questions!  After about 15 minutes this student became comfortable and jumped in forming great answers.

As we went, I wrote helpful words on the board such as “healthy” and “fast food” that students could refer to.  I am fortunate to have an incredible group of students this year in Spanish 3 and everyone participated.  For those who struggled, I pointed them to the guiding phrases to start and expand upon their simple answers and they did!

We got in a pretty heated discussion after the question, “What is your opinion on onions”.  Who would have guessed?  I was afraid there might be a lot of silence and we might run out of topics or original answers but that was not the case!  I kept track of how many times the students spoke and gave them a grade for participating.  I’m not a big fan of participation grades but felt it fit here.  Student held each other to a pretty high standard and no one tried to pull one word answers or repeat exact answers someone else had said.  I was so impressed with the prior knowledge students used and how they built upon the starting phrases.

I’m hoping to do this on a weekly or biweekly basis.  We have a movie unit coming up next so I think that will be a great topic!

Thank you Amy Lenord for sharing what you’ve learned in your first few goes of this activity!  What do you do to get students talking?

Until Next Time,

Maestra McH

Getting Up After Being Knocked Down (and Kicked a Bit)


The following dialogue comes from Batman Begins:

Bruce Wayne: I wanted to save Gotham, I failed.
Alfred Pennyworth: Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.
Bruce Wayne: You still haven’t given up on me?
Alfred Pennyworth: Never

Today was one of those days that I felt like a failure.  I designed a great project for my Spanish 2 students revolving around the present progressive. Here it is.  It was due today.  Out of 21 students, 2 had it done.  Argh.  Of the rest of them, some were in various stages, some had not begun.  They had two and a half class periods plus a weekend.  I was beyond frustrated.

I tend to take things personally when it comes to my classroom.  Personally in the sense that I feel I should have prevented this.  I spent a chunk of the morning in a metaphorical heap on the floor (not actually on the floor, I had other classes to teach!).  I had fallen and felt kicked around a bit as well.  As a new teacher, this is a feeling that creeps up from time to time as I try new things.  It is easy to stay in that heap feeling as though I failed.

The better route is to pick ourselves up though.  Teaching can be a very solitary profession (especially in a small school).  Often we must be our own Alfred Pennyworths and not give up on ourselves.  So this afternoon as I pick myself up and dust myself off I am reflecting how I could have avoided stumbling.

Stumbling Block #1: Not setting clear deadlines
In the future when I do this again, I will provide more deadlines than just the due date.  There will be a deadline for written prep work, a plan for filming, filming and recording audio, uploading files and editing.  This will hold kids more accountable and help with time management.

Stumbling Block #2: Making the “digital native” assumption
I hate the term and idea of “digital native”.  Yes students know how to text and download music.  They do not automatically know how to upload files, trouble shoot issues and work with new programs.  Some did but the majority did not.  I spent class time showing them how to use it but they obviously were not paying attention or panicked based on the questions and excuses I got.  Along with the deadlines.  I would do these demos and have them practice in class in stages of the project.

Stumbling Block #3: Assuming I had workable technology
I teach in the old building at school and our tech person has admittedly told me that they put the old, non-working computers on this floor to satisfy a past teacher who wanted to use them to babysit her students.  As a result, I am stuck with not enough computers for my students and the ones I do have don’t work well, at all.  Sadly, I have limited options to remedy this but will have to line something up in advance next time.

So, once again, new teacher picks herself up, refusing to give up and marches into the future determined to fight and spread knowledge to the masses.  Armed with healthy reflection and modifications for the future I will pick myself up, again.  Tomorrow is a new day and another chance at success.  Although I’ve picked myself up, I still think a healing beverage or maybe some ice cream is in order.  Batman is only human after all!

Until Next Time,
Maestra McH


Un monstruo horrible: Numbers and Colors Practice


I started my 4th quarter class of junior high Spanish with a batch of 17 7th graders.  Day 1 we went over procedures for entering the class room, they filled out notecards I use in class and we talked about how I do warm up activities.  I was able to infuse a lot of Spanish into this and by the end of the day they knew name, date, how do you say and what is in Spanish.  I modeled how to enter the room in Spanish using CI and it was a great opportunity to point out that even though they didn’t know the words, they could still understand and glean meaning.

Day 2 I introduced colors in TL using lots of questions and circling technique.  I asked for examples of things that were certain colors using “Qué es rojo/azul/amarillo/etc” since they knew “qué es” and I have a sign in my room that says it to help them.  I also had them tell a partner (introduced the word compañero and di) colors or examples.

Day 3 We learned a song about colors, and built on “Qué es” to “Qué es tu color favorito” and “Mi color favorito es…”.  They surveyed classmates.  They tallied up how many people liked each color and I had them report out in Spanish using the numbers 1-10 that I had just introduced.  I asked “A cuántas personas les gusta ___color__________” and they responded with a number like “siete”.

Day 4 Today I told them a story about a monster under my bed using the video linked here (which I paused) and actions.  I told them they were the policia and needed to draw the monster so we could find it.  I then gave them one part of the description at a time and they drew.  As they drew I walked around and commented on their monsters in Spanish that they were good, pretty, scary, horrifying etc with appropriate actions to help for understanding.  I also circled back and asked what color past body parts were and how many of that body part the monster had as students drew.  At the end the students shared their monsters, gave them names and hung them around.  There was some initial confusion about what to do or how many or what color but that soon dissipated as we continued and students caught on and I assured them (in Spanish) they were correct.  We closed the day with Zachary Jone’s (@ZJonesSpanish) Twiccionario Color sheet and I expanded to have them write in words the number of the question like “uno” “dos” “tres” etc.

Tomorrow I will focus more on numbers by using playing cards to do some simple math.  We’ll expand to number 1-20 tomorrow.  This idea was inspired by a blog post I read but I can’t remember which blog!  I believe it was by Megan Johnston (@muchachitaMJ) but I’m not positive.

This has been a very different approach to teaching for me.  I can say these past few days have been a lot of fun and students are engaged and catching on quickly.

Here are some of their monsters!

IMG_0082 IMG_0080 IMG_0078


Chunking Chapter 3 of Cajas de cartón


This week my Spanish 4 started chapter 3 (De dentro hacia afuera) of “Cajas de cartón”.

Here are my plans:

Day 1: Today we talked about our first day of school and how we felt.  Next we made some predictions of what Francisco´s first day might be like and why.  We read as a class then they read to the middle of page 16 as a group.  I only had 3 students today.

Day 2: Tomorrow we will be chunking out the rest of page 16, page 17 and part of page 18.  I created six stations for students to work at on their own.  This way they can focus on sections of the text and not be so intimidated.  I highlighted key words for my students who really struggle to help them grasp the big picture.  There is a lot of drawing going on at the stations.  Here are some shots of what the station directions look like.  I realize they are bit difficult to read, but it gives you an idea.

IMG_0013 IMG_0014


Day 3: Students will read 10 minutes on their own then recap and continue working with a partner for 20 minutes.  We´ll review as a class at the end.

Day 4: I have 5 students.  I am going to assign each of them a character and a section of the text to read and understand.  Next they will get together as a class, fill in the gaps (jigsawing the text) and finally act out the scene.  This is the part where Curtis and Francisco fight about the coat.  With time left we´ll continue to read how Francisco reacted to the event and have our Francisco act it out.

Day 5: We will read as a class.  I will only have 3 students again because of a track meet.

I hope to help keep the text fresh and as undaunting (which apparently is not a word but I can´t think of a better one on such a short post) as possible for the students.  Hopefully things will go well!

To round out this chapter I will probably have students do some reflective writing comparing their school days to Francisco´s or have them take on one of the roles (teacher, Curtis, Arthur, another student in class) and explain how they would react in this chapter.