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!

Noches Misteriosas en Granada: Revelations Activity

My high school classes just finished reading the novel “Noches misteriosas en Granada” by Kristy Placido. I usually finish up a novel with some sort of group mural/speaking project. For this novel, though, I wanted to try something different.

Because it’s a mystery, there are a few big reveals in the last chapters. I summarized each one in a single sentence, and my students had to look through the novel for clues that hint at the larger mystery. It was a great way to have them go back to parts they remember and realize that little clues have been sprinkled throughout the whole book.

Noches misteriosas en Granada Revelaciones (Spoilers!)

El Robot

Whenever you start teaching at a new school, there always seems to be a treasure trove of resources to discover, leftover from the teacher before you. One of the books I found a few years ago at my new school is called Realidad y Fantasía by Suan H. Noguez and Emily Boyd. It has a wealth of stories written in simple, comprehensible Spanish, along with workbook-type activities for each. It doesn’t seem to be in print anymore, but if you find a copy, hold on to it! Some of the stories contain valuable cultural and historical information, and others are just fun to read, with an irreverent sense of humor that captures students’ interest.

One story from the book is called “El Robot.” It’s about a robot who works in a house, cleaning and cooking and doing the dishes, but all the while wanting to do something else. He decides to invent another robot to do the chores, but of course that doesn’t work out! I’ve used the story on its own and rewritten as an embedded reading, but this year I tried it just as a story script, reducing it to the bare bones and letting students flesh it out. Here it is, with the variables underlined.

Key structures:

tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres

limpia la casa

lava la ropa

saca la basura

Hay un robot que se llama Stanley. Stanley vive en una casa con una familia. Tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres. Tiene que cocinar y lavar los platos. Tiene que sacar la basura y limpiar todos los baños. Es un robot muy trabajador, pero no está contento. Quiere tocar el saxófono. Así que decide inventar otro robot para ayudar en casa. Va a su laboratorio e inventa un nuevo robot. Se llama Dora.

Ahora Dora tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres. Dora limpia la casa, lava la ropa, y saca la basura. Por fin, Stanley puede practicar su saxófono. Toca en una banda de jazz. Pero hay un problema: Dora no está contenta. Quiere nadar en los Olímpicos. Así que Dora decide darles dinero a los hijos de la casa para hacer los quehaceres. Dora no tiene dinero porque es un robot, así que decide robar el dinero de un banco. La policía arresta a Dora, y ahora Stanley tiene que hacer todos los quehaceres.

Perros y Gatos, Oh My!

Zachary Jones has a weekly feature on Wednesdays call Miaucoles (get it?) that is worth checking out. He posts a cute cat meme or video in Spanish every week, and it’s a perfect pick-me-up for those dreary winter days that seem to drag on forever.

One recent video is a commercial about the value of adding some furry friends to a boring situation. It’s a great clip to add to your arsenal of Movie Talk videos. I haven’t used it yet, but I would probably teach or reinforce structures like works, boring/bored, and smiles. You could also get a lot of mileage out of describing the cats & dogs, talking about what they are doing and where, and discussing students’ pets.

El monstruo de la laguna

I’ve talked before about using Name Cards on the first day of school to get to know students and provide content for creating mini-stories in the first days of school. Favorite activities are a no-brainer for novice students, but what about second year students? I like to get the ball rolling with the phrase “tiene miedo.” Students draw pictures of what they fear, and we build scenarios of students finding clowns in their lockers or sharks in the bathroom. It’s very useful for reviewing past vocabulary, too.

A natural segue for “tiene miedo” name cards is this little comic strip I found on Zachary Jones’s site. The language is super-simple for returning students, but you can use circling techniques to build up a background story for the little green monster and the redheaded girl. I like to finish by having students draw what happens next, then displaying possible scenarios, discussing them in Spanish, and voting on a class favorite. Whatever my students decide, I write up into an extended reading for another class period.


You can extend this little comic even further if you have access to Señor Wooly’s fabulous site! His video for “Guapo” makes for a perfect contrast. After viewing and discussing the video and accompanying readings, I like to have students do a Free Write in Spanish on who the REAL monster is: Victor,  or this little green sweetheart.

OR you could connect the monster in the comic to Canticuénticos’ “Cumbia del monstruo,” a catchy little dance song with lots of opportunities to teach different body parts.

One of the things I love about teaching with Comprehensible Input methods is how easy it can be to link authentic resources from different sources. How could you use this comic in your classroom?


“Alma” is a fantastic animated short that was making the rounds in CI circles last year. It’s perfect for this time of year because of the weather and winter clothing vocabulary. I borrowed several ideas from around the web as I built my lesson plans around the video.

First, I pre-taught some vocabulary. “arriba del estante” and “escribió en la pared” are easy enough to TPR, and then I used PQA to circle the word “muñeca.”

Then, I used a shortened version of the embedded reading from Nina Barber, changed to the past tense since that is what my students have been using all semester, to do a Pictado. Students listened as I told the story and drew pictures of what they heard. I got a lot of repetitions from simply saying the story multiple times, then I circled some questions about it to make sure they understood. Then they used their pictures to practice saying the story back to a partner.

The next day, we reviewed the story by talking about a student’s Pictado drawings. I wrote the essential vocabulary on the board as we went, then added the words “gorra,” “guantes,” and “chaleco.” It happened to be a hat day in my school, so we talked about the different hats people were wearing. Then I copy-pasted version 2 of the embedded reading into IMTranslator, using their TTS Voice service to read the story in Spanish. Students listened to the Spanish and translated it aloud into English. (I love IMTranslator when I want to give my kids a break from hearing my voice!) Then I used the photo collage on Cynthia Hitz’s site as an informal listening assessment, with students holding up their fingers to indicate the number of the photo I was talking about.

FINALLY it was time to watch the film. The first time through, I paused it at different times to talk about what they were seeing in Spanish. I really liked how pre-teaching with the readings helped them understand the final film. I stopped right before she touches the doll and asked for predictions. Then we got to watch the whole thing through without pausing. After discussing the ending, I had them do a timed writing assignment about the story. (If students finished early, I challenged them to continue the story on their own.)

There are so many other different things to do with this video, I couldn’t try them all. Martina Bex even turned it into a midterm exam!


Or, How To Make Your Math Department Love You.

Numbers are so useful, yet so boring to teach. One thing that I have been using in all my classes throughout this year is a Matedictado, or Math Dictation. I originally got the idea from Ben Slavic’s blog (the source of many great CI ideas!), but have put my own little spin on it.

First, students have to practice the numbers. If they haven’t worked with higher numbers before, I like to drill them using Martina Bex’s Final Countdown Brain Break: I say “uno,” the next person stands up and says “dos,” and we see how high we can get without two people standing up at once or messing up the pattern. We get to do higher numbers if I start with a different number, forcing them to count by threes, fives, tens, or hundreds. Another way to practice numbers are to include them as details in stories. Some teachers use a Sesame Street-style Number of the Week for this purpose.

For the Matedictado itself, I teach operations vocabulary for plus, minus, or multiplied by, give five or ten problems. Students have to correctly hear and write down the two numbers for the problem, then solve it. Students get to hear the numbers again when they trade papers for grading.

The Girl Who Didn’t Know How to Drive

In order to pre-teach vocabulary for the upcoming Rio Movie-Talk video, I wrote a short script and did a regular story-asking session today. It worked out well, and I think the Movie-Talk will be much richer and more productive when students already know the core vocabulary.

Target Structures in this case are:

No sabía manejar   She didn’t know how to drive

Chocó con   She crashed into/ran into

There was a girl who didn’t know how to drive. One day, she wanted to go to her friend’s house. So, she got in her dad’s truck and tried to drive to her friend’s house. But there was a problem: She didn’t know how to drive. She crashed into a gas station, and the gas station exploded. The girl and the truck both died and went to heaven.

When she arrived in heaven, the girl was an angel. But there was a problem: She didn’t know how to fly. She was a very sad angel. Her dad’s truck was in heaven, too, but it was not an angel. It had turned into a Transformer. The Transformer knew how to fly. It taught the girl how to fly, and she was very happy.