Author: senorabas

Bianca Nieves Chapter 5: El Juego Imposible

My Spanish IV class has been zipping through the novel Bianca Nieves y los Siete Toritos by Carrie Toth. It’s a little below their reading level, but it is rich in the uses of subjunctive as well as Spanish bullfighting culture. (Tangent: I am a huge believer in reading below level as long as the content is rich.)

After reading chapter 5, in which the villainous stepmother threatens Bianca with an impossible choice, I made up a slideshow inspired by Martina Bex’s ¿Es Posible? boardgame. I didn’t have enough time to create an actual game in class, nor did I have the classtime to devote to such an activity. I simply displayed each slide in order to generate discussion. This also allowed for a lot of authentic use of the subjunctive!

Teaching Novels for the Whole Class

Yesterday I got a chance to present to our local comprehensible input group. This group is the fruit of last summer’s IFLT conference, and it has been so helpful to have like-minded professionals from all different kinds of schools and languages meet regularly to share ideas and ask questions.

I shared a presentation about how I go about teaching a whole-class novel, and I’m posting it here for anyone who might find it useful.

Patricia va a California

I have a soft spot in my heart for Blaine Ray’s Patricia va a California. It’s not the newest TPRS novel out there. The story is simple and a little clunky at times, the resolution comes too quickly, and the ending reads like an after-school special. There are no pictures, and the teacher’s guides that are out there lean heavily on comprehension questions and true/false quizzes. Yet I teach it every year. I value the contrast between American and Guatemalan cultures as well as the book’s sweet message of acceptance. For some of my students, this book has been the first time they had to confront their own preconceived notions about Latinos. Here are some of the activities I do with my students.

They even give away the pivotal scene on the front cover! Talk about taking away suspense.

Chapters 1-3

I created a digital breakout to pre-teach Guatemalan geography and culture. In the past, I have also used Martina Bex’s reading about Guatemalan geography as a hook for my students.

I have my students do graphic organizers to represent Patricia’s house, family, and mealtimes, and we do lots and lots of PQA comparing and contrasting in this section. There’s not a lot of story or plot going on here, but we just go slowly here and use it as a jumping-off point to talk about my students’ lives.

I also have incorporated Martina Bex’s chicken bus resources in this section of the book, when it talks about the dad taking the bus to work because they don’t have a car. It’s a fun break from the novel!

Chapters 4-7

I have my students listen and draw a story map to represent the action in chapter 4, since there’s a lot of movement as Patricia travels from Panajachel to Los Angeles. In chapter 5, they did a similar family tree and house drawing for the American house, and we focused our conversation on comparing Patricia’s Guatemalan house to her American one. I make a pretty big deal about all the technology and appliances mentioned in the text (COLD WATER? From the FRIDGE?!) to further emphasize the disparity between a rich nation and a poorer one. This might also be a good time to show all or part of the English-language documentary Living On One in class. Even though Patricia’s family doesn’t seem to have a lot compared to us, the reality is that they are comparatively well-off.

The antagonist Debbie Martin also gets introduced in chapter 6, and she is so cartoonishly mean that I can’t help but pronounce her name dramatically every time it comes up in the text.

I have my students draw storyboards of chapters 6 and 7, and we have lots of rich discussion and PQA comparing Patricia’s school, the California school, and our own school, as well as the role sports play in Latin American schools.

Chapters 8-11

Chapter 8 is THE PIVOTAL scene of the book, the one where Debbie Martin turns it around. We made sure to dramatically re-enact the car-jack scene using the Readers Theatre technique, and we discussed whether or not we would be so forgiving of a girl like Debbie. We then do a 5-Finger Retell of the chapter: students trace their hands and write a “Who, What, Where, When, and How” in each finger space. In the palm, they write their own reaction.

Chapters 9-11

The book winds down with Patricia and Debbie becoming friends and Debbie visiting Guatemala. By this point, my students are really comfortable with the text and I relax the graphic organizers and illustrations. We just read, discuss, and enjoy!

To review the whole book, I have my students match chapter titles (there are no official ones, so I made some up!) and then illustrate or write the key events from each chapter.

I also have developed a Socratic seminar for this novel, in which we circle up and discuss the cultural differences between Guatemala and the United States, the similarities we share, and whether or not it is important to visit another country. It’s a great way to finish up the novel and help students think about their own travel goals in the future!

Digital Breakout: Guatemala

I have a new obsession. It started with and all the fantastic breakouts that are coming out from Martina Bex. I tried the Agentes Secretos breakout in class with great success and had grand plans to create my own breakout activity. That is still in the works to go along with the novel Robo en la noche, but over spring break I allowed myself to go down the rabbit hole into the world of digital breakouts.

It’s appealing because all you need is an internet connection, a computer, and a logical brain. Solving many (too many) of the digital breakouts posted gave me lots of inspiration to tackle a digital breakout of my own. My Spanish I class is about to read Patricia va a California, and the first couple of chapters deal with Guatemala and the culture there. I tried to incorporate as much of that as possible, and here is the result: Escape: Guatemala. Take a look around and try to solve the puzzles!


Don Quijote: El último caballero por Karen Rowan

.My Spanish III class revolves around the history and culture of Spain, so I was eager to work with Karen Rowan’s version of the classic Don Quijote: el último caballero. The last time I taught this class, I relied on my own episodios from a more difficult student reader, and I was pleased to find that Karen’s book is vastly superior to my own efforts!  Here are some of the things I have done so far, along with what is next:

Capítulo 1:

I introduced key structures with a mini-story, acted out by my wonderful student actors. Changeable details are underlined.

Target structures:

se volvió un poco loco

decidió quemar

llegó volando

Bob es un chico normal que trabaja en Wal-mart. Un día, Bob se volvió un poco loco porque un cliente molesto lo tocaba sin parar. Así que Bob agarró una espada Nerf y atacó al cliente, pero lo mató por accidente. Entonces Bob decidió quemar toda la evidencia. Hizo un fuego grande y se escapó, pero un helicóptero de la policía llegó volando. Bob fue capturado por la policía, pero cuando le explicó la situación con el cliente molesto, la policía exclamó “¡Yo comprendo!” y lo liberó.

Students drew pictures and wrote sentences using the new vocabulary as a follow-up, and we were able to read and discuss chapter one of Don Quijote without difficulties.

Capítulo 2

I used another mini-story to introduce target vocabulary.

Target Structures:

quería buscar a una dama

se enamoró inmediatamente

todos se rieron

Bob quería buscar buscar a una dama. Quería buscar el amor. Vio a una dama y se enamoró inmediatamente. La presentó a sus amigos, y todos se rieron.

This was a super-short story, and I used this creepy granny doll as the dama in question. Any prop that you have to make the dama ridiculous or funny would be a good one!

I followed up the mini-story with a love song in Spanish (“Chocolate” by Jesse y Joy, but there are many apt songs!) since this was right before Valentine’s Day. The next day, I had a sub day and my students read chapter two on their own and drew pictures to show understanding.

Capítulo 3

This was the famous windmill scene, so I wanted to really help students picture it. After writing the structures ejército de gigantes and molinos de viento on the board, we read and discussed the chapter. Students had to draw Don Quijote’s fantasy vs. Sancho Panza’s reality, and then we did a dictation which was a summary of the episode from Don Quijote’s perspective.

The next day, we reviewed stills from the 1979 cartoon of Don Quijote and then did a Movie Talk with the Youtube video:

Capítulo 4

After writing the target structures pastores y ovejas and les tiraron piedras on the board, I read the chapter aloud, throwing “piedras” (some pencil erasers) at students during the story.

Capítulo 5

My students read this chapter first in small groups and drew scenes with dialogue from the chapter. To cement understanding, we acted out the scene with actors perched on their desks and falling off of them. We then discussed why it was necessary to trick Don Quijote instead of just asking him to come home and made predictions about how Don Quijote would react to a year with no adventures.

Capítulo 6

I am going to pre-teach se dio cuenta de que with a PQA discussion about when students realized that Santa/the tooth fairy/the Easter bunny weren’t real. Then, students will read the final chapter individually while I play music from Strauss’s Don Quijote Op. 35. (One of my students remembered playing movements of this in her youth orchestra, and was trying to match what she played with what she was reading. This will be a surprise for her!)

We will then discuss what they read, focusing on whether Don Quijote is a tragic figure or merely ridiculous.


In searching around for related materials, I came across the short film Lila on Zachary Jones’s site.


We will Movie Talk the film, then students will complete the activity sheet posted on Zambombozo, separating reality from fantasy. Then students will read the analysis of the video on Zambombazo, showing comprehension by matching the more advanced Spanish of the given text with paraphrased passages in simpler Spanish. After discussing the text, students will have a writing assignment comparing themselves to both Don Quijote and Lila and answering the central question: “¿Es mejor vivir en el mundo real o en un mundo de fantasías?”

Lo que construimos

One fantastic resource for authentic Spanish music is Zachary Jones’s site, Zambombazo. Last month, he posted a worksheet for a Natalia Lafourcade song, Lo que construimos. The song itself is a beautifully sad breakup song, but the music video adds that something extra that makes for compelling CI: a twist ending. I decided to combine Embedded Reading techniques with Movie Talk strategies, creating two block periods worth of activities. My students were able to do this right after a dating/personal hygiene unit, so there is lots of vocabulary that I decided to recycle into the final reading.

Target Structures:
se acabó

tenía que acabar

After presenting the target structures, I showed students screencaps from the video and we read and discussed the story together.

After discussing the story, we listened to the song WITHOUT the video in order to complete the cloze of the lyrics and then discussed the meaning.

The next day, we watched the video, pausing many times to discuss the action, as in Movie Talk. For the first time, students noticed there was something strange about this boyfriend. What was that strange substance tracked throughout the house? Who is he talking about when he said “they have come for me?” What is that strange light shining down in the end? Is the boyfriend entirely human?

Finally, we wrapped everything up with a reading I had typed up.

Lo que construimos Reading


El gato apestoso

I’m a very structured story-teller. I like to have things well-mapped out, knowing that I am going to hit the target structures and get lots of repetitions in, which means that the first two episodes of a story will have a character trying to solve a problem, and the third episode will resolve the problem in some way. Students get a some leeway in naming characters and other little details, but I don’t usually give them free-reign until the end of the story, when they have built up some language from the previous two episodes.

“El gato apestoso” is a script I’ve adapted from Blaine Ray’s Look, I Can Talk More!. I have one class that can handle telling a story with actors, and one that, well, can’t. They are sweet kids who are very prone to chaos, so they get a short leash. On Monday, my one class helped create the story with actors, and I drew pictures to help review events. I recycled the pictures for my antsy class, using it more as a look-and-discuss. The pictures only told the first two episodes of the story, and after a listening quiz, I had students write their own endings to the story. I chose 8 different endings, typed them up and cleaned up the grammar, then the next day had those ready as a reading comprehension activity. Students read with partners, illustrated to show understanding, and then we talked about them in Spanish. It was a nice way to change up my normal super-structured routine, while still honoring student creativity (and getting in even more target structure repetitions!).

Here’s the initial script, along with my stunning artwork:

Target Structures:

  • lo olió                                        she smelled him
  • ¡Hueles mal!                           You smell bad!
  • se puso desodorante            He put on deodorant
  • ¡Ponte desodorante!            Put on deodorant!
  • todavía apestaba                   He still stank

Frances tenia un gato que se llamaba Jeffrey. Un dia, Frances lo olió y exclamó, “Oh, Jeffrey, ¡hueles mal! ¡Ponte desodorante!” Así que Jeffrey se puso desodorante Old Spice para Gatos. Frances lo olió otra vez, pero su gato todavía apestaba.

Así que Frances lo llevó a una experta en gatos que se llamaba Phoebe. Phoebe era experta en gatos apestosos. Phoebe olió el gato y exclamó, “Jeffrey, tú hueles muy mal. Cepíllate los dientes, por favor.” Le dio pasta dental Aquafresh para Gatos (con sabor de ratón), y Jeffrey se cepilló los dientes. Phoebe y Frances olieron el gato, pero todavía apestaba.

And here are some of the endings my students came up with:

El gato olía mal. El gato olía mal todo el tiempo. Frances no sabía qué hacer. La mamá de Frances le dijo, “¡Córtate la nariz!” Así que Frances se cortó la nariz. Jeffrey nunca apestaba otra vez.

Frances llevó Jeffrey a una experta. Se llamaba Kitty Perry. La experta exclamó, “¡Qué asco! Tu gato apesta.” Jeffrey estaba muy triste porque él apestaba. Frances no tuvo éxito con la experta. Por fin, Jeffrey se lavó con champú especial, y Frances dijo “Mmm. Jeffrey, ¡hueles bien!” Entonces Jeffrey tenía una novia y estaba muy feliz.

Frances llevó Jeffrey a Jack, un doctor en gatos apestosos. “Mi gato apesta mucho, necesito ayuda.” Jack miró a Jeffrey y dijo, “No es un gato. Es un extraterrastre de ajo.” A Frances no le gusta Jeffrey así que Frances lo tiró en la basura. “¡Hueles muy mal!”

Jeffrey todavía apestaba. Frances llevó Jeffrey al veterinario y el veterinario le dijo, “El gato no apesta, Frances, ¡TÚ hueles mal!” Frances volvió a casa con Jeffrey y Jeffrey le pasó su desodorante. Frances se puso desodorante y dijo, “Lo siento, Jeffrey. Tú no eres un gato apestoso. Hueles bien.”

Frances llevó Jeffrey a otro experto, que exclamó, “¡Eso no es un gato! ¡Eso es un oso! Para que huela bien el oso, tú necesitas comprar desodorante de oso.” Así que Frances fue a Wal-Mart y compró el desodorante. El desodorante no funcionó. Así que el oso se lavó con champú especial. El oso ya no olía mal después de lavarse con el champú.


First Day Exit Slips

Last year, I finally struck on a good way to start the year in a higher level class. As I’ve mentioned last August, I started my high school class (who have had at least two years of instruction in the present tense), with “Fue.” Students drew pictures of where they went (or wish they had gone), I wrote “Fui” and “Fue” with their translations on the board, and we were off and running. I compared my card with that of another student, fishing for details to flesh out the scenario.

Then it was time for a brain break. I had my kids get up and stretch a bit, then they had to move around the room to find people with the same height, eye color, hair color, and shirt color. After our break, I handed out the syllabus, along with Martina Bex’s syllabus homework. When I did this last year I found I had better buy-in with both students AND parents.

After explaining the classroom rules and my interpersonal communication rubric (borrowed heavily from Ben Slavic’s wonderful site), I reviewed the two cards we had been working on. Instead of a five question true/false quiz like I’ve given in years past, this year I tried handing out exit slips. They’re not fancy, just about a fifth of sheet of copy paper with a spot for name, date, and a few lines to write on. I asked them to write down two sentences about what we talked about in class today. Then on the back, they reflected on their learning in English.

The exit slips showed me which students might struggle with fui vs. fue, which are still hanging onto the present tense for dear life, and other areas that I need to work on when circling. I was really in it for the reflection part, though. Here are some things my students wrote:

“Mrs. Bas made the material pretty easy to understand. She also asked a lot of questions, which helped me understand. Everything was slow, even the way she conversed, which I liked. She also used a lot of examples, which also helped me understand certain terms when I was confused.”

“I noticed that it is hard to understand a different language even if you’ve studied it for years. I think it’s easier to understand if you mix English in it.”

“I understood most of what Mrs. Bas was saying so that was easy. The hard part though was speaking up to answer her questions.”

“It was all easy saying it and thinking it.”

“We asked a lot of questions in class. What is hard is remembering everything from last year.”

One of my goals this year is to use exit slips like this to get a quick read on what students are acquiring and where the gaps are in their learning, as well as have them reflect on HOW CI methods help them learn the language. If I can get them to understand my goals from day one, I think that I will be able to maintain better discipline throughout the year.

Paideia Seminar and Comprehensible Input

I teach at a Paideia school, which means that my school focuses on Mortimer Adler’s philosophy that “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” I find that CI methods dovetail nicely into this, because they support the widest variety of learners. Slow processors get the repetitions they need to make meaning from high-frequency structures, and fast processors can hone in on things like how different verb endings change the meaning.

There are three pillars of instruction in the Paideia classroom: Didactic, Coaching, and Seminar. In my classes, I spend the majority of time in the Coaching mode, modeling the use of target structures through Personlized Questions and Answers (PQA), Story Asking, and reading stories and novels. To an outside observer, this might look like I am just lecturing. After all, a CI teacher does a LOT of talking! However, what I am really doing is modeling correct language and administering constant comprehension checks, building up students’ auditory and reading comprehension so that it leads to producing correct language in their speech and writing. Also, by asking them to respond to input, I am giving them a chance in a low-pressure environment to practice their target structures.

The area where I have struggled most to incorporate CI methods is Paideia Seminar. A seminar draws on Socratic-style questioning methods to guide students to a deeper understanding of an idea or a text. It is a formal discussion in which students sit in a circle and do not raise hands to speak, but rather wait for an appropriate opening. The teacher functions more a a facilitator, with the goal of keeping the discussion on-task, but not deliberately leading the students toward any one conclusion. In my school, all students participate in both weekly school-wide seminars on a particular text and in content-specific seminars. As a Comprehensible INPUT teacher, how could I expect my students to produce OUTPUT at the level that Paideia Seminar demands?

As a result, I tend to use Paideia Seminar very sparingly, deploying it only after students have already received ample input and have something highly discussible to talk about. My most successful Spanish seminar happened earlier this spring, in my 8th grade class. We had been reading Noches misteriosas en Granada by Kristy Placido, and there was an activity in the Teachers’ Guide for chapter 7 (where the mystery really ramps up) in which students had to agree or disagree with certain statements about the text and support their opinion with text evidence. Well, in the world of Paideia, we are constantly hammering “text evidence” into their brains, so I decided to use that activity to prepare them for a formal seminar. Remember, we were seven chapters into the novel, and I had built up their vocabulary previously with stories containing key target structures that I knew would appear in the novel. My students engaged in a lively debate about the true nature of the mysterious Alfonso and Soraya, completely in Spanish. The words were just falling out of their mouths, with almost no effort, even from some of my students who struggle the most and have been the most resistant to my methods! I was truly amazed at what they were capable of. One of my strategies when conducting a seminar in a foreign language is to reserve a couple of deep-thinking questions in English to ask at the end of the discussion, but these students didn’t even need them. They were fully engaged in the target language, even asking questions of their own in Spanish. The very best Paideia Seminars are ones in which students take the lead in the discussion, and I never expected that to happen in a Spanish seminar.

Their success has inspired me to develop Paideia Seminars for other texts as well. When I teach Esperanza next year, I can see a having a debate about Alberto’s role in things. (My students this year had strong opinions about his seemingly cavalier attitude about leaving his family behind.) When I teach Robo en la Noche, I want my students to delve deeper into Cecilio’s role in the theft. Do his reasons absolve him from his crimes?

Paideia Seminar is such a great tool for exploring characters and themes, and with enough CI prep, students can do it all in the target language, too!

Casi llega tarde

As I was gearing my 8th graders up for their next novel, I realized that lots of the target structures I wanted to hit are already in Señor Wooly’s “Puedo ir a baño” video. If you are unfamiliar, it’s about a boy who barely arrives to Spanish class on time, only to immediately ask to go to the bathroom. (Not that any of our angels would dare to do such a thing!) So of course, he sings to his teacher about it.

I pulled out my target structures:

casi llega tarde

no puedo esperar

empieza a

no lo/la deja ir

And after asking the students who was a strict teacher, we came up with this:

Hay una chica que se llama Jakaylah. Un día, Jakaylah va a la clase de inglés. Necesita sus libros de inglés, así que va a su armario primero. Pero hay un problema: ¡hay una jirafa en su armario! Jakaylah no puede sacar sus libros de su armario porque la jirafa no la deja. Jakaylah le grita, “Aarrrgh!” y la jirafa tiene miedo. Jakaylah saca sus libros de su armario y continúa a su clase de inglés. Camina rápido porque no quiere llegar tarde. No corre. Correr en el pasillo es malo. Jakaylah camina rápido.

Jakaylah casi llega tarde a la clase de inglés. No está tarde. Llega exactamente a tiempo. La Sra. V es una profesora estricta. Empieza su clase exactamente a tiempo. Jakaylah se sienta, pero tiene otro problema: tiene que ir al baño. Levanta la mano y le pregunta a Sra. V, “¿Puedo ir al baño?” La profe le responde, “No, tienes que esperar.” ¡No la deja ir! Pobre Jakaylah piensa, “No puedo esperar. Tengo que impresionarla.” Así que Jakaylah se levanta y empieza a cantar. Jakaylah canta “Party in the USA” por Miley Cyrus. Canta con mucha pasión y energía. Pero la Sra. V está enojada. “Siéntate, Jakaylah. Tienes que esperar.”

Jakaylah se sienta en su silla y piensa, “¡No puedo esperar! Voy a hacer pipi en mis pantalones.” Jakaylah sabe que necesita impresionar a Sra. V. Pero su profesora no estaba impresionada con su música bonita. ¿Qué impresiona a una profesora de inglés? De repente, Jakaylah tiene una idea fantástica. Empieza a escribir ensayos. Escribe un montón de ensayos y se los da a Sra. V. “Ay, Jakaylah, ¡estoy muy impresionada! Tú puedes ir al baño.” Jakaylah está muy contenta porque Sra. V la deja ir al baño.

It’s fun coming up with ways to impress the teacher. In another class, three different students were almost late and tried to impress the teacher. The first two failed, but we let the last one succeed because he both solved math problems AND twerked at the same time. Impressive!

After a few days of inventing and reading the story, they were ready to MovieTalk the video. I highly recommend a Señor Wooly subscription, but “Puedo ir al baño” is free!