Socratic Circles as Assessment ~ the Why and How

Happy 2018-19 school year!

I wanted to take the time and share a strategy, or better yet, a framework for learning and assessment that I use as one of the tenants in my Spanish IV classes and at the end of Spanish III.  This framework is preparing students for a Socratic Circle or Socratic Seminar, and this post will explain how they function in my class setting.

When I think about the proficiency levels of our students, my level III and IV students’ proficiency levels fall in the range of novice-high to intermediate-high.  Fortunately, I have found that a Socratic Circle performance assessment allows for success for all students that have been present in class learning about the topic. I continue to use Socratic Circles because they empower students to think and use real language.

I would like to take a moment and give a shout out to my dear friend, Amy Wopat, @wopatdc, who teaches in DC public schools.  It is because of Amy that I began using Socratic Circles with the framework that she designed for her classes.  Together we have presented on the topic and the Socratic experience has evolved in different ways for both of us.  This blog post explains how I use the Socratic Circles in my environment, and my hope is that readers are able to take these ideas and make Socratic Circles their own to enhance their world language curriculum.

The goal of a Socratic Circle experience is for students to lead a formal discussion for 30 to 45 minutes in the TARGET LANGUAGE without help from me.  As the teacher, I say very little during the Socratic Experience because the students have prepared to be the experts, ask questions, ask one another for clarification, and listen to each other while having a civil discussion. (Elfie Israel has a good working definition of a Socratic Seminar here).  When thinking about 21st century skills in education, a Socratic Circle provides a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate critical thinking, collaborative learning, and communication.  Through a World Language lens, the 5 C’s are also fostered (Communication, Connections, Comparisons, Community and Culture), especially if the topic and question posed for the Socratic Circle is relevant to culture and community – which mine are.

Socratic Circles and Backwards Design: Logistics and Preparation

For the Socratic Circle performance days, I look at how many students I have in my class and decide how many “Seminar Circles” I will need.  I believe the best number of students per “30 to 45 minute Seminar Circle” is 7 to 11, meaning a class of 24 students would need 2 to 3 “Seminar Circles.”  Depending on your bell-schedule, you may have to dedicate multiple days to the performance assessment with different tasks for your students each day.

Setting up the classroom in an Inner circle/Outer circle(s) arrangement– see picture here – allows for the “Inner circle” students to discuss the posed question while the “Outer circle(s)” students are tallying how many times their “partners” are speaking during the Socratic experience and/or writing information that the “Inner circle” students are saying (this additional part may be key in keeping a third Outer circle of students engaged if your class numbers require three circles).  I will continue to define this in the Grading and Rubrics section of this post.

The daunting experience for students to stay in the target language for 30 to 45 minutes about a real topic requires preparation.  Since my Socratic Circle experience is a culminating assessment, students are saturated with the topic at hand so they have the necessary vocabulary and structures to easily communicate their thoughts about the topic and posed essential question(s) for the unit.  Throughout the unit of study, students begin to make connections and think about how to respond to the essential question(s) because I reference it often during class. For any Socratic Circle or Seminar experience, students must be reminded that the experience is not a debate but rather a discussion, and multiple viewpoints should be considered throughout the discussion.  This piece is important for me as an educator because I hope it builds empathy and the capacity to see topics from multiple perspectives for my students.

For example, in our district we end our Spanish III course with the students’ first Socratic Circle about Immigration to the US.  This is a controversial topic that requires all of us to see the issues from multiple perspectives.  Throughout the unit, we include many sources that show different perspectives. The sources that we choose to work with serve as the anchor sources for students upon which they can build their fundamental understanding of a topic.  This of course does not mean that our students do not bring prior knowledge about the topic nor that we do not encourage self-study on the topics – in fact, students must find additional sources and refer to them during the Socratic Circle experience to support their comments.

In preparing for the Socratic experience, students must evaluate and annotate sources, and then make reference and cite their sources as they make claims during the discussion.  These are crucial skills for preparing students for many of today’s standardized exams including the AP World Language and Culture exam.  For example, on the AP World Language exam, for the presentational writing task, students must write a persuasive essay requiring them to cite from three sources while presenting an argument including multiple perspectives or viewpoints.  The presentational speaking task requires students to compare and contrast a topic from the perspective of a target culture and a student’s own culture. In preparing students for the Socratic experience, I provide language and structures needed to help a student compare, contrast, express agreement/disagreement, change topics, defend a point of view, and support an opinion.

My role as the teacher is to prepare the students to be successful and accomplish the daunting task that I have given them.  I continue to use Socratic Circles because my students are amazed that they can successfully do it. They are so proud of what they have accomplished in the target language and it empowers them and helps them see that they can use real language and communicate on topics relevant today.

Here is an example unit plan for my Spanish IV unit on the Cuban Revolution. The unit plan also includes the requirements for the actual Socratic Circle experience.  It is important to note that students are still learning language when reading, viewing or listening to the anchor sources. These sources provide a great deal of the unit’s content and needed background for the topic. For this reason, I must assure that the sources are comprehensible for all students by using strategies to help students successfully interpret them.
Resource:  Sample Unit Plan with Culminating Socratic Circle Assessment: the Cuban Revolution

Assessing the Socratic Circle

In many ways I feel that a Socratic performance assessment is just like an IPA (Integrated Performance Assessment) because all skills of communication are needed and can be assessed: interpretive, interpersonal and presentational.  This all being said, since I feel these types of assessments are more performance-based and students can prepare for them, I have worked to hone my rubrics and grading strategies to help more students “listen and respond to” instead of simply “responding with memorized or language that is read aloud.”  Ultimately, I want an interpersonal dialogue to be taking place while they use their resources to defend their claims and/or point of view.

The following is the breakdown of the requirements and grades for a Socratic Circle:

Prior to the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpretive Reading Grade: Students must find, read or view, and annotate 2 articles and/or 1 audio/visual source (usually in target language) that have to do with the essential question of the Socratic Circle.  I also provide them this Current Event Analysis Sheet that they must complete per source.  Points are generally given in this fashion per article:  5 points for annotations on the article that include questions, connections to the essential question, and marking main ideas [you may have to teach how to annotate] and 10 points for the Current Event Sheet.  These annotated sources should be used when the student is in the Inner Circle.

During the Socratic Circle Experience:

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 1:  When a student is in the Inner Circle, she has a list of requirements that they must accomplish during the 30 to 45 minutes allotted.  The task of keeping count of these requirements is assigned to a student-partner who is seated in the Outer circle.  [What I have found works best is when I determine the mix of who will be in the Inner Circle and who will also be their partners; this way I pair up students based on abilities, which helps with their capacity to listen for key factors.  It also helps to have a variety of students in the Inner Circle at one time].

There is one Speaking Grade based on this content.  For an A grade, the Cuban Revolution example requires students to complete these tasks:

  1. Ask 3 questions
  2. Respond to 3 students’ questions or comments
  3. Make 3 statements referring to a class/anchor source
  4. Make 3 statements referring to their own sources

The grades are determined based on how many times a student did the above task requirements.  Again the student’s Outer circle partner (and often the student herself) is checking off the requirements, which she will turn in to me.

Here is an example of a Socratic Circle Student Reference Sheet with the Outer circle grading.  Each of the 4 task requirements is worth 5 points with a student earning 3 points once she makes reference to each task.  Students’ grades will vary based on how many times they complete the 4 required tasks.  It is important to note that yes, students can accomplish two tasks at once for example by (B.) responding to a student’s questions while (D.) referring to one of their sources.  Also, during the Socratic experiences the Outer circle partners can silently communicate with their Inner circle partners and when there are 5 to 7 remaining minutes, I allow them to have a quick conference so that students know what else they may need to include in the discussion.  Generally speaking, prepared students score very well with this grade because there are many supports in place for their success: clearly-defined task requirements, a conference time with their partners, and use of their source articles (and sometimes notes, depending on the level and time of year).

Interpersonal/Presentational Speaking Grade 2:  My last note about students using notes is precisely why I have created this 2nd speaking grade.  After many tweaks, I am pretty happy with this rubric.  During the Socratic Circle, I am filling out these rubrics for all Inner circle students based on whether or not they are (1) Speaking or Reading from notes (when they are permitted to use them – Spanish III end of year and first Socratic in Spanish IV) and (2) Use of Vocabulary as it pertains to the unit and Academic vocabulary (that I provide).  This grade is worth 14 points.

In my opinion, these 2nd Speaking grades are optional, and please know, that it is not grading students on “correct usage of language.”  I have found that this grade was necessary to push my students to not read from their notes but rather really speak in the target language; it also pushed students to use more of the Academic language that they need to begin to internalize.  I have seen great results with implementing this grade with respect to students accomplishing the task of genuinely speaking and listening about a topic.  By design, it does not require me to be punitive with their communication errors and gives me a chance to write down some feedback to share with each student.  In all truth, some of my students over prepare for the Socratic experience and rely too heavily on online translation, and this is exactly what I am trying to hinder.  On a positive note, some of my best Socratic discussions have come from those students who did not prepare at all because I know they are creating all of their language on the fly.

Interpretive Listening Grade: When students are in the Outer circle or (Outer-Outer circle, if you have 3 groups), students must write down 5 to 10 comments or questions that different students have said while in the Inner circle. This additional measure is in place to emphasize that all students must pay attention even while not in the Inner circle.  In general, I give 2 points per comment, so the grade is 10 to 20 points respectively.

Post Socratic Circle Experience:

Presentational Writing Grade:  Following the Socratic Circles, there is an in-class written essay or short-answer assessment about the essential question and what has been learned from the experience.  This assessment is completed in the target language. I will often ask students to reference comments made from all Circles (again 1, 2, or 3 based on class-size) and to continue to incorporate academic vocabulary in their responses.


I hope that this post has provided you with some resources to possibly implement a Socratic Circle or Seminar in your own classes. My colleagues and I feel that by incorporating them, our students are able to develop their target language voices on relevant topics to life and history and make more connections to other subject areas than we are able to do with just narrowed topics.  Of course this post is no where near the be-all to understanding Socratic Circles or Seminars but it could serve as a starting point for you to help push students to listen and think on their own in the world language context.

Have a great school year!

Here is a quick template to help design a Unit with a culminating Socratic Circle/Seminar!

A special THANK YOU to Cindy Hitz, @sonrisadelcampo, for the weekly reminders this summer via Twitter to get this post written – the public accountability worked!

How “Coaching” Can Complement the Classroom

Returning to the well for a yearly conference is rejuvenating and special. This week I am in the middle of two weeks of attending two amazing weeklong conferences – NTPRS and IFLT. I am sure both will provide tremendous amounts of growth opportunities for me as an educator and as a trainer and coach (which are my main roles at each conference).

I am fortunate to serve on both Coaching Teams at these conferences that value the need for participants to reflect and practice skills. It is crucial that teachers take the time to try out all of the new ideas and skills that they are learning in order to best prepare them for when they return to their classrooms. In “Coaching” we provide a safe space for teachers to practice and grow with the support and nurturing from a Coach and fellow participants. Each conference provides coaching times embedded throughout the workshops and Open Coaching sessions throughout the week. And yet, although I see these moments as opportunities for growth and development, the reality is that some may see a coaching experience as torture.

Why torture? There are a few reasons. We are asking educators to get up in front of peers and teach in an artificial setting. Let’s add the reality that some educators may have concerns speaking in a non-native language they teach or if English is their second language, they must communicate in our English-speaking environment. Lastly, participants are learning so many new concepts, skills, and strategies that may be outside of their comfort zone to try to implement. So when you put all of that together, we as Coaches know how overwhelming a Coaching experience could seem.

Over the course of many years, TPRS/CI Coaches have created a model that puts participants at ease and works to best meet their individual needs. In fact, we know that people learn so much by reflection and observing that observation plays a big role in the Coaching process and, for those who do not want to “teach in front of peers,” they can observe or learn language as students. The model has all participants focus on everything that they CAN DO WELL. Everyone is reflecting on what they see and throughout the process, they are all learning by looking for the good instead of the bad. [If you are attending NTPRS, IFLT or AGEN, be sure to feel the power of Coaching].

Now in this post, I wanted to think about connecting elements from our Coaching model to the classroom. I have to really take a step back with this because I do not think I am always as encouraging or positive with my students as I am on the Coaching Team. Do I always just look for the positive and what my students can do or do I point out the negative and their errors? If I am often criticizing my students’ language or possibly creating a culture of scrutiny, what is their impetus to even try? My desire to “help” them and correct their Spanish could be having a reverse effect. I also have been reflecting on my level of “positivity” working daily with teenagers whose commitment to their smart phones often takes precedent over focus in class or, even worse, the priority is to just talk over me as I am trying to provide input and conduct the class as the teacher. I am aware that their actions do not always put me in the most positive state of mind.

In many ways our Coaching experience is just like how my classes need to be. In Coaching, we set ground rules and expectations and work to shed light on everything that participants can do while providing guidance to hone a new skill. Although our conference audience is most often happy to be there, we know that there is a tremendous amount of pressure put on them. Frankly their Affective Filters (from SLA research) could be quite high but if we provide the support needed, nerves can be calmed and then their success celebrated. When I ask students to perform by comprehending, reading, and speaking Spanish, they too could experience high Affective Filters, especially if the environment sometimes goes toward the negative or is not set up to celebrate their successes. My thoughts on this are resonating a bit more now as we just finished the end of a the school year, which was more challenging than the “bright eyed” beginning of the year. Students’ actions and the constant need for classroom management in some classes really brought me down this spring. Knowing this, I think back to all of the negative energy that was in the classroom environment and how perhaps the Coaching Team mindset could have helped both my students and me as an educator. Even though I serve as Co-Coordinator for the Coaching Team at NTPRS, it has taken the support from our coaches and our time together to refocus, recharge and remember all of the good that we can do by looking for the positive in others. Bit by bit I am preparing for the school year. Cheers to Summer PD.

Giving Thanks for my Local PLC during the Winter Blues & 10 Mini-Flashcard Activities

Wow, two months have flown by and teaching three preps, certainly keeps me on my toes. There are few moments of my life that I am not thinking about my classes and what I could possibly do to help students or better engage them in class. For me, this has been even more important during these winter months or what I call the Winter Blues, not mention the upcoming month of March when all are counting the days before spring break. In addition to the many blogs and Facebook groups that I try to keep up with, I am fortunate to have an amazing group of teachers who meet monthly in our local comprehensible input-based PLC: Professional Learning Community – click here for a list compiled at of PLCs.

For so many this PLC provides 4 hours of conference like learning locally, which I know is so important for professional growth. So many of these teachers are not able to attend conferences. (If any administrators are reading this, please allow your teachers to attend professional conferences offered by the associations in your state, region (there are 4 annual world language regional conferences) or national level or summer conferences like NTPRS or IFLT). It is so sad when funds are only allotted for the “tested” subjects. Our field has changed so much over the past 15 years that if teachers are not engaged in professional development that is specific to world language then their students and possibly teaching practices are being left behind.

Thanks BIT

Fortunately in Northeast Ohio for five years now, we have had a Personal Learning Community that was spearheaded by French teacher, Christy Miller. Christy and her team have made professional development free for area teachers. Christy has encouraged other teachers to present two-hour sessions or to share shorter sessions through teacher-shares. Not only are we in Northeast Ohio providing our students with better instructional strategies, but teachers are now becoming presenters at state and regional conferences because they now have a place to get their feet wet as presenters. What I also find great about this model is that I can attend a monthly session and quickly adapt an idea to my teaching the next week; this even applies to many ideas that I have heard about or even done before and have perhaps forgotten.

For example at this month’s session, Christy Miller presented on how one set of mini-flashcards can be used for at least 10 engaging student activities. Now in the past (from another PLC meeting), Christy and I learned about this activity from the very creative Vicki Antequera, and over the years Christy and Vicki have continued to create new ideas to use with their mini-flashcards. In the true sense of a growth mindset, we are all growing from one another’s best practices and then trying to take ideas to new and different levels and making the practices work in our classrooms.

As I said, I have seen various presentations on this topic and have actually used this technique [this year in fact] but it has yet to become a staple in my class. Why not? I do not know. It is truly a great practice for my Spanish II students because it does require active learning and focus. Christy Miller has outlined these directions for using the mini-flashcards to front load structures/vocabulary, play games that require students to listen to comprehensible input and even use the flashcards for retelling.

Using mini-flash cards for many activities to front load your vocabulary and engage students – provided by Christy Miller

  1. Give Students your vocabulary words/structures in your Target Language on ready-made flashcards (you can simply use a table on a document; here is a Blank Google Doc version)
  2. Have students cut the flashcards & write the English meaning on back (or put picture on back)
  3. Play some games with the flashcards, students will do the following:
    1. Alphabetize your flashcards
    2. Categorize – Separate into 2/3 categories – Tell teacher why your chose your various categories
    3. Lift up the card teacher calls out & translat
    4. Point to the card teacher calls out & translate
    5. Use with prepositions –  Put the “soup flashcard” NEAR the “chair flashcard,” Move the “chair flashcard” into the “living room flashcard”
    6. Bingo  – Lay out your flashcards 5 x 5 – no free spot – Flip over when teacher calls it
    7. Answer Questions – Teacher can write questions about students using the new vocabulary; then students find the flashcard with a word from the sentence and write student answers the question on the flashcard [for example Did Paul see the movie Black Panther? Students guess an answer and write yes or no].
    8. Form Sentences – Have students line up 3 or 4 cards to make sentences
    9. Put in Order – Tell a story and have students put the flashcards in order of your story
    10. Match your flashcards to a storyboard / picture based on what the teacher is describing

New Year’s Reflection #5 – Plans for 2nd Semester

One day more! It has been a great ride reflecting over this last week of my winter break, and with this fifth post, I have reached my New Year’s goal. For the remainder of the semester I will stick to my once a month goal that I set in September (but perhaps I can manage two shorter posts – so they will not be so long).

In this last post, I am going to set some goals and thinking about my three classes for the rest of the semester. I am sure I will accomplish most but this will be similar to how I plan with webbing; I brainstorm and web many ideas for units and courses and only some of them get developed or used.

Overall I am going to remember that Intermediate language is messy with regard to accuracy but if the message is there and they are communicating they are meeting the main goal! I hope to also strike the balance of fun and academic in order to help students reach meaningful communication.

Also in all levels, I will continue using weekly expressions/passwords of the week, which I have done faithfully thus far and these expressions have been infused in communication throughout the whole year. I do also like greeting my students at the door each day.

Spanish IV

  • It is a goal to use improvisation and theatre games with students to improve their spontaneity while speaking. In order to help move them along the intermediate level, I would like to practice more with more ungraded activities and contexts using problems and I CAN statements.


  • I will start the semester off finishing up a bit of ideas from the former Crime and Punishment Unit with a song and story around “No llores mamá” about a repenting gang member (on this Youtube video, turn on the closed captioning). We will also play a few rounds of MAFIA or what I call PANDILLA. Martina Bex explains the game here.  


  • During the Cuba and Revolution Unit, I would like to seek out a Cuban speaker, who would share their story with students. This unit also includes reading Chris Mercer’s La Casa Dividida published by TPRS Books, the film Viva Cuba, other texts and videos, and a Socratic Seminar.


  • I will continue to do weekly Choice Homework assignments. As a conference junkie, I was fortunate to see a Choice Homework presentation by bloggers Laura SextonSara-Elizabeth Cottrell and Bethany Drew* in 2014 and since I have made it work for me and my students. Currently my Spanish IV students must complete one or two tasks a week in one of the six categories: speaking, writing, reading, listening, structure, or vocabulary. I try to coach students to complete something very meaningful to help their Spanish. So for example if I see them using an aspect of grammar incorrectly, I would suggest that they find a tutorial on the topic and write a few sentences using it. My Choice HW ideas, which are a compilation from many including the ACTFL 2014 presenters, can be found here and on my resource page.
  • Edit:   I originally had Amy Lenord’s name attached the above presentations which was my mistake.  I still want everyone to know about Amy Lenord‘s blog  because I have learned a lot from her over the years and she has inspired me also.


Spanish III

Thematically we teach about Rites of Passages, Personal Responsibilities, a new Environmental Responsibilities PBL, and an Issues of Immigration Socratic Seminar.

So here are some of my ideas going forward.

  • As I already pledged, I will bring back Free Reading as an integral weekly piece.


  • Last semester, we began watching EXTRA because I think watching a comprehensible series has great value. For each episode I am requiring them to use and make word connections by exploring related words from a word from the episode. I believe that students should be exposed to word connections and think about what are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, antonyms, synonyms, and expressions that use a given word. Will this lead to acquisition? – Probably not, but could it help build vocabulary, build stronger reading abilities in making connections to other words, and how to appropriately use a dictionary or, I think it does. So far, we have just done activity as a class with pairs of students each looking up one of the aspects mentioned, I will have to see when and if I think this could be done individually and for homework. A blank template and an example can be seen here.


  • One piece for the Rites of Passage unit will be when I will co-construct an ongoing Wedding Mystery story context with students. I will try to get all students involved by having a cast of about 12 student actors and the rest of the students will have class job responsibilities. I have developed this for many years and I will publish some of the material when they are ready.


  • Supporting a district initiative, my colleague and I have been working on an Environmental context project applying the standards of Project Based Learning. Together students will create video products that describe and provide solutions (from many lenses) to an environmental issue in a Spanish-speaking country. One piece that will be very important for the success of this project is that students do not use Google Translate to express themselves. We are providing them a lot of language structures that will help them accomplish their I CAN statements and tasks and with careful monitoring I hope we will not make students feel they must use sentence translation with the help of Google.


  • Students in our AP Spanish and Spanish IV classes will view these products and give their opinions and feedback on the content. By having Spanish IV students be the audience, we are embedding this new theme into Spanish IV this year and if it goes well, we are creating a pinnacle experience for both levels. The PBL experience will also provide an avenue to teach about Costa Rica to all of our Spanish III students as we are preparing for our 2nd Costa Rican Immersion trip during spring break of 2019.


Spanish II

  • This summer I purchased Scott Benedict’s wonderfully developed Spanish II Immediate Immersion lessons and curriculum. I have not had enough time to sit down and really look through the wealth of resources there, so that is a goal this semester. For more information check out


  • We just finished reading Fiesta Fatal, and I would like to use Nelly Hughes’ Breakout EDU for it. This will be my first Breakout EDU with the official Breakout box so fingers-crossed that it goes well. You can check it out on her TPT site: Comprendes Mendez SpanishShop.


  • I think I am going to present one of my favorite lessons, which is the windmill story with Don Quijote and Sancho Panza. I have done this lesson many times but never in Spanish II. I have been thinking about a few connections that I could do with regard to Spain, Quijote’s Route, and travel. It also will support my need to work with 3rd person singular and plural in the past tenses more (see my post from January 1, 2018).


  • There are many staples that I have been doing for many years that I will continue to use this year:
    • Señor Wooly’s “No voy a levantarse”
    • Stories about getting ready for a day, date, and dance
    • Cinderella story-tell with this student song favorite: “Eres mi Cenicienta” by Voz de Mando
    • We then spend a lot of time dedicated to travel by air, bus, train, being in a hotel, and Fluency Matter’s Los Baker van a Perú. In December, I experimented with Michelle Kindt’s ideas for using Literature Circles that I saw at NTPRS 2017. Her system worked very effectively and I cannot wait to get to try again with this novel in the spring.


I am going to stop now because I feel I have plenty to get me started and ready for next week. Of course because of the Facebook groups, Twitter, PLCs, TPT, Señor Wooly Week, conferences, and conversations, there will be so many more ideas that come my way or ignite a new spark in my mind. Thanks for reflecting with me over these five 2018 posts and have a great 2nd semester.

Gary DiBianca

New Year’s Reflection #4 – The Human Side

Over the past four days I have certainly reflected a lot and what I finally wrote down is what constantly goes through my head. I want to take this New Year’s Reflection #4 in a different direction. I am writing it as a reminder for myself to always keep in mind because I know that my love for Spanish, language teaching, curriculum maps, lessons, and learning connections could get in the way: the human side of teaching and the daily needs and struggles of my students. I am not talking about their needs with regard to differentiation and language learning but really who they are as individuals. To help me with this post, I will refer to my favorite source material: musicals. If you are not enamored in the same way as I am with musicals, do not fret, luckily for all, no one has to hear me try to belt a show-tune!

Last May I was traveling to NYC and I was very fortunate to score a very hard-to-come-by ticket to see “Dear Evan Hansen.” A month later this musical and its stars would win Tony Awards for their remarkable and genuine performances and portrayals of high school students and parents dealing with real issues. (In case you have not yet experienced Dear Evan Hansen’s amazing songs, check our Dear Evan Hansen Original Broadway Cast Youtube Playlist.) The musical tells the story of Evan, a 17 year old senior with social anxiety, who gets tangled in a web of unfortunate (or fortunate) circumstances following a teen suicide in his school. One of the show’s anthems rings with the message “You will be found” and it leaves the audience in a mixed whirlwind of emotions at the end of act 1.

With tears in our eyes (and tears are not a common occurrence for me), I began talking with the people next to me. They said “Wow, what a show. Being parents this show is really hitting us.” I said, “Yeah. I am not a parent but I am a teacher and it is really hitting me too.” This couple was immediately empathic to my experience as a high school teacher and I was empathic to their roles as parents – we both play key roles in children’s lives. I told them that I was lucky to buy this newly released ticket the day before, and they looked at me and said, “you were meant to be here.” I took that message to heart and feel that I carry a bit of Evan with me every day. The struggles presented by all of the characters in the musical can be found in any school on any given day.

The beauty of musicals is through the magic of song, stories are told, shared, and experienced by an audience. Of course, movies and TV can do this but for me there is something about an actor pouring their emotions out on stage and when done well, demanding we empathize with them and understand their story.

Do we as teachers try to understand our students’ stories?

Do we realize that our young people do have stories and they have identities that are as complex as ours or even more so? There are insecurities, doubts, the incapacity to understand their changing selves, struggles, many life factors that our students cannot control, and also all of these wrapped up in each family member and friend in their lives.

As I start the new year, I want to remember all of this. I must remember that my 90 students are more than a grade or language proficiency level, their role in the school community or as membership on a team, or the behavior that they exhibit in my class. This of course does not excuse students from being respectful or holding them accountable to adhering to school rules or working to learn, but ultimately, I feel that the better I know a student and about their struggles, the better teacher I can strive to be.

I want to end with this song from the musical “13.” It is sung by another Evan and a group of pre-teens about turning the big 13. I think these lyrics from the song “13/Becoming a Man” paint a nice picture of what is going through the minds of kids this age. There is even a shout out to Spanish class – but I would have to guess she has a very demanding, legacy world language teacher.

Have any other musicals helped your perspective and provided a better way to see, feel, and think about someone else’s story?  Leave a reply and share it.  


Read the lyrics to “13/Becoming A Man” as a poem or my preference is to listen and watch this video with lyrics on Youtube

I’m Evan Goldman. I live at 224 West 92nd street,

In the heart of Manhattan.

And my life just went to hell.

Picture me just another cool kid in NYC,

Near the park and the MET.
Life is sweet, Yankees in the Bronx, Pretzels on the street,

Just how good can it get?
Who’d have guess dad would meet a stewardess?
Mom’s depressed and her lawyers are mean.
Now I’m stressed, life is a disaster
And I’m cracking from the strain,

Going totally insane
And I’m just about to turn
Everything switches
Everything turns around
End up in stitches
Find a way underground
Can I get through it?
Life has changed over night
How do I do it?
Nothing is going right
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And I’m standing on the edge!

Twelve years old,

everything that used to be as good as gold

starts to crumble and crack
Pressure mounts, once it was a joke,

Now it really counts and there’s no going back
Life goes wrong

Boy: Suddenly they’re yelling cause your hair’s too long

Girl: Or your room isn’t clean

Kids: Roll along

Evan: Every conversation is another lost cause or

A list of my flaws
God, I’m going to turn thirteen!

Boy: I want a dirt bike
Girl: I want to kill my mom
Boy: I want a mustache!
Girl: I want a wonder bra
Girl: When do I get it?

Boy: All of the grown-up stuff’

Girl: How will I make it?

Boy: When am I old enough?

Why is the world feeling totally stranger?
Why are my friends acting totally weird?
Why do I feel like my life is in danger?
Why do I feel like my brain disappeared?

Girl: How can I get through a year of Spanish?

Boy: How can I not look dumb in track?

Boy: How can I gain 20 pounds by Friday?

Boy: How can I make my voice not crack?

Kids: I wanna fly, wanna run, wanna drive
Wanna get rich, wanna get drunk, wanna get out
Wanna get my braces off
Wanna get my nose pierced
Wanna grow my hair long
But all I keep hearing is

No, you’re not ready!
No, it’s not time yet!
No, it’s not right now!
Wait until you’re older!

Just settle down and hold your horses!

In the middle of this city
In the middle of this street
There’s a sound of something crumbling,
Rumbling underneath my feet

In the middle of the sidewalk
Outside p.s. 84,
I hear a roar
I can’t ignore

I hear Evan it’s not your fault
I hear Evan can’t you see
I hear Evan do you want to go with mom or stay with me?

I hear kiddo, I’m not angry
I hear buddy, you know best
And there’s the rumbling getting louder

But there’s one day in October
Where the pieces all will fit
When they have to be together
And pretend they didn’t quit

I’ve got one day in October
And I know it’s got to be
The perfect party

I’m becoming a man
I don’t know what a man really means
The rule book grows, but no one knows
What all the rules allow

I’m becoming a man
No one tells all the scared in-betweens
Just how we should be strong, be good
With so much pressure now

One day it gets better
One day it makes sense
One day I’ll stop talking in the friggin’ future tense
One day in October
It’ll all be great
And I can’t wait

I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait to come to your party
I can’t wait
I can’t wait
Can’t wait for thirteen!

Something is coming
Something is going up
Something is humming
Somebody’s growing up!
The best and the worst
And the most and the least
And the crazy and the scary
And we’re just about to turn


Lyrics modified from

New Year’s Reflection #3: Spanish IV

To keep each of these posts a bit different, I am going to work backwards and deconstruct how I structured my Spanish IV classes for this semester and write about each unit. To provide the context, this junior class has always had one less section of classes, so I only have two sections with relatively small numbers at 14 and 10. I have only taught four of these students before because two years ago I only had one section of Spanish II with 12 students in many grade levels. These four students loved learning from stories and songs and frankly their retention was wonderful so I wanted to make it a goal to include as many stories and songs as my semester would permit. Since I am the only Spanish IV teacher, I get to explore and take my students to any place I would like as long as I am preparing them to AP Spanish Language and Culture [which is my mindset anyway and I am also doing this]. So let’s reflect on the semester.

Spanish IV – Semester 1 Reflection

Overall this year’s students all came in at an intermediate low or mid level and I attribute this to our evolving mindset as a department and what we are asking students to do in Spanish – go team!!!

This is the 3rd year I have taught this course and I am constantly modifying the content. This year I switched the order of my two novels: first teaching Vida y muerte en la Mara salvatruchas published by Fluency Matters and then during semester two I will teach La Casa Dividida published by TPRS Books. These two novels are super compelling and last year students loved both of them.

In order to prepare students to read Vida y muerte, to participate in a Spanish only Socratic Seminar (a 2018 goal is to blog about Socratic Seminars soon – although come to OFLA’s annual conference April 5-7 in Cleveland for a three-hour workshop with co-presenter Amy Wopat), to have an interpersonal interview with me as a part of the midterm, and to work on developing their sentences and essay writing in Spanish, here are many of the things that I did for each unit of study.

When we began the year, I had a good idea of the “I CAN” statements that I wanted to include on the midterm although these evolved a bit during the semester. So during class I would make students discuss and write about these “I CAN” statements/topics by responding to questions in pairs or as a class, developing their ideas and thoughts thematically, asking questions, and ultimately recording answers individually or having conversations and writing using this template to help them develop their thoughts and sentences. I provide this same format on their quizzes and they must incorporate these terms in order to exceed expectations on my writing rubrics, which can be found on my resource page. And wow, what a difference this scaffold makes and in time, they are including the transition words with ease.

With regard to speaking grades, this is one area with which I have been experimenting. For the first two speaking grades, I provided the questions and many of my students prepared their responses and responded with beautifully well-developed Spanish (which was not read). This is great on one hand but bad on another because could they do this spontaneously without the preparation? For the following two assessments, I had them work with random partners and ask questions about the topics (yes they prepared these ahead of time but they did not read them) and their partner had to provide shorter answers (about 20 seconds like on the AP Lang and Culture exam), this way it is more like a conversation. I think I will continue with this strategy for more interpersonal like speaking assessments and do others that are more presentational for lengthier responses.

Now for the units, which are below with Essential Questions, I CAN statements, and Themes/Topics.


  • What is my role in my community: my city, school, home?
  • How do the places in my city/community reflect how and where I live?

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • What I like, love, dislike
  • My personality and how I look
  • My home life, where I live, my origins
  • My city and community where I live and go to school
  • Spanish civilization, religions of Spain, and the development of the Spanish language

For this unit, I wanted to get to know my students and have them become very comfortable for many of the novice type questions and I CAN statements. I have always been bothered that my students could possibly do very well on a Socratic Seminar and talk to me about literature and/or politics without being able to respond to questions that we hope they learned in earlier levels. I find this beginning unit is great for all students regardless of their strengths and weaknesses.

I reviewed and taught many structures using traditional TPR and also TPR with subjunctive commands like “Pido que Ud. / I ask that you…,” “Exijo/Mando que Ud./ I demand that you…” and “Sugiero que Ud. / I suggest that you…” This was great this year and I will continue to incorporate it in Spanish III also.

There was a lot of Ben Slavic’s Card Talk, PQA (personalized questions and answers), and a few stories done as well as two beloved songs: Me encanta by Pierre Louis and Señor Wooly’s Sé chévere.


  • What are my goals?
  • How do I define success?

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • My goals, dreams, and future
  • My successes
  • What I have done and I have not yet done
  • My responsibilities

I began doing this unit after backwards planning the book Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatruchas. So many of the words that my students would not have known were about goals, dreams, and reflecting on what one has already done; so it has been perfect for junior students.

For this unit, I make students describe, defend, give reasons, explain, converse and interpret information about goals and dreams. I use a few stories and a Movietalk and embedded reading based on the rather sad short-film Kiwi. Thanks to Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley for their concept of embedded readings and training; using embedded readings has been a staple of mine now for many years and I continue to use them because of how they build confidence for all students. Check out for more information.

I also incorporated the songs No importa la distancia from Disney’s Hercules sung by Ricky Martin or now by David Bisbal too, and Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked (see my resources). These two songs deal with the themes and we learn a lot of vocabulary from the songs – here are two of my Quizlet sets for “No importa la distancia” (shortened list and longer list) that align with some vocabulary in the Vida y Muerte. Thanks to song expert Lisa Reyes, who shared her No Importa la Distancia materials with me many years ago.


  • What does friendship mean to me?
  • What should one look for in an ideal partner?
  • How does one country’s turmoil affect the lives of its people, community, and culture both in the country and in the world?
  • Socratic Seminar Question: Should the USA feel responsible for the rise of gangs in Latin America?”

I can express myself and ask questions about the following:

  • My friendships, relationships, ideal partners
  • Keeping secrets
  • Being a member of an organization/team
  • Loyalty and faithfulness
  • Trust
  • Pride
  • Crime and punishment (including war and gangs)

During this unit we explore the Civil War in El Salvador (1980 – 92) through a film study of Voces Inocentes. This year we also had pre- and post-discussions about types of governments, politics, and global issues, which were all spontaneous and real conversations. To help prepare my students, I went to that one “folder I know I have in one of my four very full filing cabinets” and pulled the National Spanish Exam word lists for these topics and copied them for my students. In 2007, I did quiz all of my students on these words but fortunately for my 2017 students I did not. Instead students just used the words to help them engage in conversation and it was successful. Students did have to demonstrate their knowledge of the themes from the film in both presentational forms: speaking and writing. Again as I mentioned earlier, although I do know that they are rehearsing and preparing these responses, I have concluded that this is one way that I help students reach Intermediate mid, high and Advanced levels. It is through my expectation of developing their thoughts (which does include some rehearsing) and it has been very successful for many students and in years when I did not require it as much, students were not reaching those levels.

In preparation for the crime aspects of the text Vida y muerte, I have created a story that I tell students. Then we read the text with a lot of success because I had already exposed them to so many of the words from the text. Fortunately for our us who use the novel, Carrie Toth has blogged about her many reading activities that I have used over the years to teach this novel (but these ideas could be applied to teaching any novel). I really enjoy reading this novel with the students. The chapters are rather short and they hold the students’ interest. Each day this year, students were speaking about the topics above and what was happening, happened, or will happen in the novel. It was very successful and it was apparent that I have taught this novel now four times.

One recommendation I have is to have students read the Prologue at the end; the language is difficult. For me it serves as a terrific segue way to the Socratic Seminar question: Socratic Seminar Question: Should the USA feel responsible for the rise of gangs in Latin America?” This year I chose to show a National Geographic documentary that I found on Youtube instead of using the film, Sin nombre (we were out of time) but I will still use it in the future.

The day of the Socratic Seminar my students spoke only in Spanish for their allotted 30 minutes (for a group of 7 students (two rounds during the class) and 45 minutes (for a group of 10 (1 round). The Seminar is evidence based and students must refer to class sources and their own articles that they have found and annotated. The first year I started doing these Socratic Seminars in Spanish, the students were terrified but they almost all report having grown tremendously from the experience. We have since implemented a first Socratic Seminar experience at the end of level III, which has helped ease the fears in level IV. In level IV, last year I had to develop a rubric that looks for spontaneous speaking and not prepared reading. This change in evaluating has helped more students to really listen to what is being said and responding off the cuff, which is a part of the goal for this assessment which has elements of all three communication modes: interpersonal speaking, presentational speaking and writing, and interpretive through finding and annotating articles in Spanish and following the seminar.

To round out the semester, I have a 4 part midterm: the spoken interview, Interpretive Reading, in class written essay, and a structure/grammar piece. I always fight myself internally about this 25% grammatical content piece. But this year I chose to include it so that they would review many tenses of higher frequency verbs, word relationships, and the gender of tricky nouns. I have brought this aspect back after waffling for so many years because my conclusion is that it is in this level they need these aspects of structure and language to help them grow. The studying did not harm them and they appreciate that in general I do not give too much daily “busy”-homework.   As I always tell people, I have been an AP reader for many years and language accuracy is not the focus of the rubrics but rather the task completion and its development. This being said, if students produce work that is more accurate with regard to spelling, more polished with agreement, and using a variety of tenses and vocabulary in addition to completing the tasks and development, then the product has a chance to be scored better. If I do not create learning opportunities to enhance these aspects then they may not get them. I know there are many other ways to work on this accuracy and this is one way that I am using.

Overall I am filled with Pride for these students (another beloved song that I taught this semester, Orgullo (This is For) by PitBull. These students have worked so hard and they all feel success, which is wonderful. I know this after seeing their happy faces talking and asking me questions during their midterm interviews. I am very pleased with their progress, and I look forward to Semester 2. Thanks for reflecting with me. As of now, I am not sure what I will write for my 4th New Year’s Blog Post – I have yet to be inspired

New Year’s Reflection #2 – Spanish III


My second New Year’s Blog post will be my reflection for Spanish III for the first semester. I have not taught Spanish III in three years, which was my first year in my current school setting. That year my expectations for what students should have known and been able to do in Spanish were way too high and it was a year of growth for all of us. But this year, I am so pleased to have had a different reaction because all of the work our department has done since then with greater focuses on language performance and proficiency. Now our students are speaking and writing in Spanish with more confidence and so many more are at an Intermediate low/mid level in level III. This being said in my small class of 17 there is still a great mix of student abilities and desire to actually be learning Spanish. Since it is my newest prep, it has been a lot of trial and error but overall everyone seems happy and to be growing.

Since I have not taught all of these students in the past some have never experienced teaching for acquisition with comprehensible input and/or traditional TPR and TPRS. So I have had to set the groundwork and expectations for them while they must train their brains for a new way of learning.

I have also had to find a great balance of helping move novice students to intermediate while still moving my intermediates ahead. In Spanish III, we take a thematic approach but I find within the themes I am able to use a variety of TCI strategies that benefit all. For the first semester, I tackle three themes. For me I must start the year with a time to get to know my students so I build upon the context of Personal Identity & Interests followed by Cooking & Food Preparation and then Healthy Living & Medical Emergencies. Even though a third prep has been a lot more work for me as a teacher I do love the challenge of developing new and rich comprehensible input contexts. I am going to reflect on some of those today and also give shout outs and thank you’s to so many other teachers who have inspired or provided the materials that I am using.


Spanish III 2017 Semester One


This year I have found MovieTalks to be a great way to provide input to my mixed group. I used the following four source videos. For two of them I have noted some of my target structures that helped my telling and questioning and for the other two I have provided where you can buy already developed lessons that are ready to go.

1. Android Commercial: Paper, Rock, Scissors

I used various high frequency past tense verbs and worked with the following structures: fight, sheet of paper, rock, scissors, he (they) put, he (they) fell, he (they) helped him, he (they) smiled, he (they) cried

2. Bomba Estereo’s song and video: Soy yo

I used Kara Jacob’s story, which is available here on her TPT site. When you see great resources that are already developed, I suggest spending the little bit of money and buying them. Not only is the work done for you but you will learn so much as you work through the materials. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone but I feel the same way about textbooks for new teachers – this is one way we learn our craft.

3.   The Wallet

Kristy’s Placido’s fun lesson and story are available on her TPT site or through this link. Overall this was a fun lesson that I paired with my telling of La Llorona only because of some of the structures that worked for both like lost, was looking for, found.

4.    Pixar’s Inner Workings (available via Itunes) – Thanks to my colleague Emily Hazzard for suggesting this film.

Structures ~ we had been working on a Top 20 list of present subjunctive structures too

  • He feels – se siente
  • He has fun – se divierte
  • He is going to have fun – va a divertirse
  • He calculates the risk – calcula el riesgo
  • The brain (does not) want(s) that he – El cerebro (no) quiere que él (I used verbs from my Top 20 list that they now knew or through the video they were comprehensible)
  • The heart suggests that he – El corazón sugiere que él (From the TOP 20 list)


LIVE ACTION SPANISH – my new “older” Resource

This summer while at NTPRS (Boston July 9-13) and IFLT (Cincinnati July 17-20) (amazing conferences if you are not familiar with them – check them out and get to one this summer), I was checking out Contee Seely’s resources through the Command Performance Language Institute and found this gem: Live Action Spanish or Viva la acción. This book provides lessons that help teachers extend traditional TPR actions and gestures to a contextualized situation or story. The book, written by Contee Seely and Elizabeth Kuizenga Romijn, has more than 60 contexts of very common scenarios and themes we teach in many world language classes. In the Spanish version, each scenario is written in both the familiar “tú form” and the formal “Ud. form.”
So far I have used the following scenarios in the Ud. commands as all class TPR lessons and/or for reading homework and they have worked wonderfully. I will use more of these in the “Tú form” with my Spanish II classes next semester as we prepare for our quarter on travel.

Cooking & Food Preparation Unit – Scrambled Eggs, Toast, Cereals, and Typical Central American Breakfast

Medical Emergencies & Healthy Living – Medical Appointment, Vitamins, and the Bloody Knee (which made for a great class story)!

These Live Action books can be purchased in Spanish, French, English, Italian, and Japanese through the Command Performance Language Institute’s site.

Practicing Circumlocution

I know that my students must work on circumlocution – frankly I have to work on it too. I personally love games like Taboo and Catch Phrase, so I try to play games like this every once in a while. My students do love to play Bryan Kandel’s Silla Caliente/Hot Seat, read about it here on his blog.

This year to also help my Spanish III students, and what I would like to think to help move more of them to an intermediate Spanish level, we created this circumlocution sheet. If you look at it, you will see that I embedded many “rules” of using ser and estar). Download it on my resources page.

My Confession: Free Reading

This year we started out the first month doing Free Reading every week using the wonderful novels written for language students, but after the first month I must say I fell off the wagon. This is a bummer because my colleague who teaches the other sections of Spanish III has found great value in the free reading experience for the students and she has consistently done it. So I am not proud of this and I am confessing, but starting in 2018 we will free read our novels weekly. I must carve out the time and assure that I have our shared library cart in the room. A shout out to all of the authors of the amazing new novels that are being published, including Jennifer Degenhardt’s “Los tres amigos” with, to my knowledge, the first gay identifying character in a language learner novel. My LGBTQ students will feel very affirmed that this is a new option.


I now have Textivate and I have enjoyed exploring the possibilities. I have created a few assignments and my Spanish III students have been the guinea pigs, which did include 2 very lengthy homework assignments. In class we did a challenge day which seemed to go over better than well the 2 very lengthy homework assignments. My mishap with Textivate has been that my stories are too long and detailed, so I think if I use shorter pieces then it would make for a more doable and better experience for students.

Picture References: Two more fun days in Spanish III

Reading with 1st Graders – Students are reading children’s books in Spanish to 1st graders studying Spanish in our district elementary school.

Gozadera Break Out Winners – Check out Kristine Keefe’s great Online Breakout for La Gozadera here


As I reflect on Spanish III, teaching only one section is like teaching was for me in my small private school for the first 11 years of my career. I only had one chance every day to present a lesson and then I would have to wait until the next year to improve upon or completely change the lesson. Most of my career was built upon this reality with the exception of ironically Spanish III, which for many years I had two sections. My level III was always a very solid course even in my more legacy thematic approach but thinking about it now how was a moving novices to intermediate then or was I? Of course, I was for some of my students, but today I am able to articulate and define so much more thanks to all of the resources we now have and did not then. This is enough reflecting for this New Year’s post – God willing my Spanish IV reflection will be ready for January 3, 2018.


New Year’s Reflection #1 – Spanish II

Happy New Year and 2018! Since this Blog is now a semester old, I am going to take the next 5 days and reflect on the semester and where we will be going for the second semester. I know that taking a step back and thinking about what I did in classes and what my students were able to do (and not do) will help guide the next semester. One reality of the year is that I have three preps, teaching high school levels Spanish II, III, and IV. This reality often leaves me feeling like what I am doing is Never Enough to quote from the new musical film: The Greatest Showman. But then I read over my student’s midterm surveys and even after a long series of midterm assessments they are pleased with the variety of activities in the classes and their growing Spanish proficiency. This does please me very much and I will use their feedback to continue to improve as a teacher. Moving on, in this series of New Year’s Blog posts, I will write about each level, some thoughts about assessments, and then what I hope to accomplish and try during the second semester in my classes.

Spanish II – 10 Top

I teach two sections of Spanish II and other colleagues teach the other three sections, meaning I have to teach similar content during each semester in order to prepare students for our midterms, yet our midterm design does allow for nice autonomy for teachers. Teachers are able to agree on themes and language structure/grammar and within the broad theme I try my best to make my teaching style and preferences work. Our classes are an interesting mix of students ranging from all four grades and with a wide-range of language abilities with many students having now studied Spanish since Kindergarten. With regard to language proficiency our students range from Novice low to those approaching Intermediate low/mid. It is my fourth year teaching Spanish II so I know the “expected content” and each year I work to define the language outcomes for students remembering how vast their abilities are in all of our different skill levels. I do feel that we expect a lot from our students when we think about 21st century world language classrooms and the many abilities they must prove and content they must show – I am not against requiring students to perform in speaking, writing, reading, listening and/or interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes while showing knowledge of content, grammar, and vocabulary but I am aware how difficult this could be for many students. I will continue this thought later this week.

To best reflect on Spanish II, I will use a Top 10 style list based on what I did in no particular order this first semester.

10. Cultural Comparison using a Film

To have students think about the 3 Ps of Culture (Products, Practices, and Perspective), a two-day film study before Thanksgiving was exactly what my students and I needed to survive those two days before a few days of freedom. This was a wise classroom management decision.

Prior to watching the film, The Book of Life (which I will probably replace with Coco next year), I had students talk with their classroom partner about the Products, Practices, and Perspectives that had to do with Thanksgiving and their own personal lives. Together we discussed some of their responses in English or Spanish if able to better understand the 3 Ps.

For two days we watched The Book of Life in English with Spanish subtitles. During the film, I simply provided them a worksheet with a table with columns for the 3 Ps and then three columns that reflected the current or new structures from class: Past Tense Verbs, Words We’ve Learned This Year and New Words You Have Not Seen. I really liked that I required students to fill this table out each day of the film because there was a piece of accountability that many of my students need. Here is a copy of a chart that could be modified and used for any film.

9. Cultural Readings for Homework

In general, I do not give too much homework in Spanish II but this year, I have started to use the cultural readings from Janet Healy Mulholland Teacher Discovery’s Chico Chile Dice series (which I cannot find on the site but here is one that I found).

The series includes a very comprehensible reading with pictures to reinforce possible unknown vocabulary and a quiz about each Spanish-speaking country. I created quick Google Form Quizzes with an answer key for each reading that student completed on days I was out or for homework. I thought this was a good use of their time for days I was not in class and/or homework because it provided some good facts about geography, cultural aspects and provided them comprehensible input that I would usually not do in class –plus it was self graded due to Google Forms newer feature. During semester one, we did Central America and the Caribbean, and for semester two, students will read about the South American countries and Spain.  Including more culture and geography was a goal for us in Spanish II this year, and these assignments have helped to accomplish this goal.

8. Reviewing Present Tense “I forms” and Pre-loading Irregular Past Tense Verbs as Word Chunks with an Established Vocabulary List

Ok, I know that is a long title but I did what it says. I took a textbook vocabulary list about free-time activities during the summer and I created structures/word chunks with present and past tense irregular verbs. This process is neither new nor novel because it is a way many TCI teachers have created structures for their TCI context (especially if working with established vocabulary lists). So what did I learn from this experience??? I certainly met my goal of teaching the free-time activities during the summer with a solid review of the present tense (which many students have had great exposure). What did not work so well was my hope that students would magically learn the “I forms” of the past tense in Spanish because it was way too many structures (at 40 per tense). Please do not get me wrong, I did not just provide them these lists. I used many of the structures in context in various stories and worked with them but alas nowhere near what was needed for solid acquisition although students certainly had exposure.

So overall I think this provided some of my students with many elements of foundational high frequency verbs, the summer vocabulary that I do continue to see and hear in use, and a good review of present tense verbs in the highly irregular “I form” but I cannot expect “mastery” of “I form” past tenses from this exposure. However this experiment did lead me to a rather successful introduction to the past tenses that was new – see number 2.

7. Bargaining Situational Role-Play

I still believe requiring students to practice verbalizing some situational “role-plays” can have some great educational value for students. I think it helps to give students a better sense of how a situation will and could play out in the real world. In general, I do not have students do these in front of the class, especially if it is the same situation, and I provide students with an English “script” of language functions/I can statements to lead the dialogue.

Bargaining in a market and asking about price is an essential real world skill that I feel should be practiced by students. So this year, I chose to use a shortened dialogue for a speaking grade and I was pleased with the results. Prior to expecting the students to perform, we listened to and watched the video of ‘s Es una ganga and asked, told, and read various stories that incorporated the same language that students would need to have success with the role-play at a level that would meet the expectations and/or exceed them with strong development. Overall I have been pushing students to develop their sentences and thoughts in Spanish and this was very apparent in many of my student’s responses. Because of the nature of how I prepared students for the “role-play,” many students were using acquired language and I do not feel students were just memorizing for the sake of the role-play, which helped make this year’s a great experience.

6. Jobs and Daily Participation Rubric

Well an October shake-up was what I felt was needed in at least one of my Spanish II classes. When I say this I mean classroom management needed to be my first priority – which seemed like a national problem because it was around this time that many world language teachers were posting on Facebook groups about classroom management concerns, and I was in the same situation. There were a few strategies that I chose to implement at this time: class jobs (do a search for Ben Slavic or Bryce Hedstrom and class jobs), a new daily rubric and quiz, and new seating arrangement.

Overall my students liked the jobs and they seemed to react well to the daily rubrics, here a copy of this simple rubric. For me as a teacher, here is what happens with these new pieces, they become yet another thing that I must find time to conduct, leaving me feel more like being the ringmaster of a circus; I should just go with it and pretend to be and be able to sing like Hugh Jackman or Zac Efron in the Greatest Showman? All joking aside, even after trying class jobs and daily rubrics in the past, they have never become a part of the fabric of my classes as so many have successfully done. We did them for most of October and November but not December because so much of December was devoted to reading a novel, Mira Canion’s Fiesta Fatal (Happy New Year’s Birthday Mira Canion!)  But when we return to school in 2018, I will incorporate both jobs and the daily rubrics from day one because I do find them to be effective in Spanish II.

I quickly mentioned a new seating arrangement and that was positive for the most part. For this arrangement, I collected information from students and asked them these two questions: 1. With whom do you want to sit and you feel they will help you only speak Spanish? 2. With whom do you not want to sit and you feel it would not help you only speak Spanish? I took their thoughts and was able to form teams of four students, which has helped in team activities and quick interpersonal partner speaking tasks.

5. Dictation and Running Dictation

I love to do one Running Dictation lesson per semester because it is great fun for the students and all are engaged. Here is Martina Bex’s explanation.

I also find great value in using dictation activities because they require students to listen, write, read, and self-correct. Whenever I do them (which is not often and must be more frequent as I am reflecting on this), the students learn a great deal from them. I am going to outline how I prefer to do these, which I got many years ago from one of my presenting partners, Teri Wiechart.

  1. Prepare an eight to twelve sentence story; this often is a follow-up reading from a class story.
  2. Tell students to write the first sentence on the first line of a sheet of paper.
  3. Read the sentence two to four times in target language.
  4. Tell students to skip two lines.
  5. Read the second sentence two to four times, and skip two lines. Continue this until the end of the story.
  6. Show students the first sentence. Tell them they must correct their sentence by rewriting the misspelled words including missed accents on the line below the original sentence. For grading purposes, students must correct all errors and as long as they correct everything they get full credit; they are simply copying down the corrections at this point.

The system helps students see spelling and make connections from the aural to written word, and they feel they learn from the process.

Some of my mistakes as a teacher for both Dictation and Running Dictation are that I make the sentences way too long. Who me? as you read through my never-ending sentences in this post? Just be aware of this.

4. Incorporating Songs

I often think about cutting pop songs from my Spanish II content because for the most part they are not comprehensible. I do however use many Señor Wooly songs that are comprehensible. But then I see how well my students react to the pop songs and I know that I should keep them. In order to justify using them (in my own mind because I hate wasting class-time), I use songs to enhance vocabulary/structure learning, to recognize keywords for listening purposes, and to lead into or enhance stories.

In general here is the format that I have used with level II songs while also possibly weaving the song into a story:

Day 1: Listen and tally how many times does the artist say “word (the most commonly      said word in the song)?”

Day 2: Listen for “this or that word.” I write a list of about five to six pairs of good           vocabulary words that students should be exposed to or know. From the pair only one of  the words in is the song. They listen to the song and circle which word is said in the song.

Day 3/4: Listen to the song and fill in or circle the missing lyrics; read over       for meaning.

Day 5: Watch and discuss the video or a karaoke/lyrics version.

To get a better idea for the set-up of a song, here are my worksheets for Frozen’s “Libre Soy” (Latin American version of “Let It Go”). This song is usually loved by all students even by those who “don’t like” it.

This year semester one songs have been:

Colores, Colores – Bacilos; Dónde estás, corazón – Shakira; Camarero – Enrique (old school 80s); Amnesia – Señor Wooly (do not use the full video until after Es una Ganga); Eres – CD9; Libre Soy – Frozen Latin America; La Invitación – Señor Wooly; La Calaverita – Santa Cecilia; Me equivoqué – CD9; Es una ganga – Señor Wooly; A mis quince (XV) – Eme 15

3. Storytelling and Story-Asking

From the results of all of my student surveys (levels II, III, and IV) students reported that hearing stories was one of the best ways to help their language skills. The survey, a copy is here, had students reflect on the four skills and content during the first semester, and again class stories were often referenced and the word did “story” did not appear on the survey.

So I know that I must continue to use class storytelling and asking next semester because even if some students seem disengaged, they are still responding to the input and working on acquiring language. I make this mental note because my Spanish III and IV courses become very thematic and stories become a bit harder to incorporate in the same way as in my Spanish II classes.

2. Stories in the Past Tense “I forms”

Since I also teach Spanish IV and III, I have noticed when speaking in the past tenses that students were overusing the third person “she / he form” in place of the “I form.” This is probably because in Spanish the “she / he form” in the Preterit tense ends in the “o” but I also have many students that say “yo fue” instead of “yo fui” so this year I wanted to experiment. My goal was to introduce the “I form” in the past tense Preterit before the “she / he form;” this is not a problem for the Imperfect tense because the forms are the same.

When I began telling and asking stories in the past tenses, I did so in the first person “I form” this year and not the “she / he form.” For the most part I was able to use similar stories that I have used before and just changed their perspective. I found that I was also able to make an easier transition to the 1st person “we form” and 2nd person “you form” because of the connections amongst the common vowels in the Preterit.

I will say I am very pleased with this decision because the “I form” past tense output is great from my students. In fact, for those aspects of the department midterm (both spoken and written), there was at least 80% accuracy for the “I form.” I cannot say the same for the third person “she / he forms,” but I do know that I have not spent enough time with input of these forms. So for quarter 3, I know much of my instruction will focus on 3rd person singular for many stories. I will report back later throughout the semester when I see how they are using the various forms.

1.Daily Calendar

For the past three years, I have incorporated daily calendar and weather discussion for at least 3 quarters but I did not often see a transfer of my goals (I can tell day, date, time, weather, etc in present and past) in the students’ actual output. So in many ways, I have wondered if I am wasting time.

This November, I wanted to try an idea from Northeast Ohio TCI PLC coordinator Christy Miller. I provided my students with a blank calendar and each day there was a quick “warm-up” task attached to it. Each day students had to write the date (numbers in words) and respond to a question in Spanish. I used this question to start off of the class and because of this all students were comfortable responding to the question because they had prepared it. Yes many students were reading but I feel this was an appropriate scaffold for many students and also a way to help prepare them for our midterm speaking assessment. Students also wrote down the password/expression of the week on their calendar. I made this calendar idea my #1 because even though students do not like having to have their calendars out and begin writing when the bell rings, it helps them all focus and get in the Spanish mindset. It also was reported on the survey as an important part of the helping the students feel like they are learning Spanish. So I see this as a great success.

Thanks for reflecting on these 10 pieces from my work with my Spanish II students this year. Tomorrow’s 2018 New Year’s Blog post will be about Spanish III.

Some Positives as We All See Growth

It is amazing how much we as teachers do in a short amount of time and in any one day – I mean think about how much planning goes into setting up a classroom environment and just one day’s lesson.  In trying to meet my goal of a monthly blog post, I had to let teaching, other professional obligations, and seeing a few musicals get in the way of writing the blog – so here is October’s post.

For me there is no lack in self-reflection, because all I do is reflect and obsess about teaching – this year my major adjustment is ”How do I teach like a Rock Star for my three preps?”  As we all know, each day there could be greatness in some periods, good/okay periods, and many shakes of the head in others.  What so many do not understand is that even though I have taught all of the courses before, and for some, many iterations of them, as a teacher, I keep growing and my teaching keeps evolving and is based on the needs of my current students. This means I have to change and adapt.  

So enough of that, I am going to simply take this time to write up a few positives from the year.  Here are some new pieces of my Mosaic of World Language Teaching.

My Infinitive Door Mixed with my Expressions of the Week (Passwords a la Bryce Hedstrom)

So this year I decorated the inside of my door with Infinitive signs with pictures.  Yes this is right, although I am a firm believer in presenting verbs in the highest frequency, manipulated/conjugated forms (tiene –s/he has; yo quiero – I want; Ojalá que haya – I hope that there is/are), I must work on double structures with my students and I must do it often.  So my Infinitive door is perfect for this practice.  It has worked well for Expressions of the Week (again a variation of Bryce Hedstrom’s Passwords), when I greet my students at the door and they must use the Expression via rote reading, repetition, or responding to a question.  Since my door is able to be at a 90-degree open state, it is right behind me and students can respond easily.  If my Expression is QUERIA (I wanted to), PODIA (I could) or VOY A (I am going to) – my students can answer with DO Snapchat (hacer), WATCH Netflix (mirar), or PLAY football (jugar).  Also since I am a loud teacher, my door is always closed so my students can look at the door whenever they may need an Infinitive.  Is all of this language being acquired during the first week? – No, but through weekly and daily exposure, bit by bit they are getting it and polishing their Spanish.


Mnemonic Device/Acronym Connections with Names

Over the past few years I have been working with embedding Names into my stories that are, gulp … wait for it… related to grammar.  Yes I have said it and done it.  Many of my students like grammar and finding patterns, and for some, it helps them.

Helping students see patterns and making linguistic connections can be a good thing and an appropriate way of incorporating grammar. The problem is teaching language with constant grammar drills and conjugating that in no way helps students communicate in the target language.  So here are a few mnemonic devices/acronyms in Spanish that I have used and incorporated into stories and contexts with success.

Please note I am always toying with the accents even if they do not make sense, and adding colors really makes them pop or provides a puzzle for students to figure out throughout our stories.

-Gérmán Ástu y yo iremos – for Spanish Future Tense Endings

-Javier A. y Sara – for Imperfect/Past Subjunctive Endings

Hermanas (Superscript HE, AS) y Hermanos (Superscript HEMOS)  (Hermanas y Hermanos) – Present forms of Haber for the Present Perfect Tense

-Alibaba trabajaba y María corría  – Imperfect Tense

-La serpiente Sé Pó Tí Ció – Preterit Tense I and S/he – This snake has a lot of fame with my students, and I have many great stories that one day I will feel good enough with to share.

Changing Seats and Seating Assignments

I am reminded that certain classes need assigned seats and changing them can result in new class dynamics.  This is pretty much Classroom Management 101 but why is it one that I often forget?  For quarter two, I created groups of four seats and I asked students for three students with whom they feel they could sit and would find success with speaking only Spanish while not being distracted and then also with whom do you feel you will be too distracted and/or with whom you do not work well.  Although this strategy took me some time to make the seating chart, I think it really has been a positive change versus some other attempts with seating.  The self-reflection piece for students was positive.  The Quarter two change was also the addition of daily self-reflection which has been positive and helping their target language use.   

Q & A ~ Interpersonal Minutes

I like to include Q & A or what I call “Interpersonal Minutes” during stories or my TCI context.  I usually have a few prepared slides that are questions using the day’s structures and a set-up answer for students to follow (this way it is scaffolded for all students’ success).

For example there are written in the target language:   

Student 1: Where did you want to go last weekend?

Student 2: I wanted to go to ________ last weekend.

As the year goes on, I am making this more Interpersonal based on my levels with language that reads like  “Ask a follow-up question,” “Report the response to the class or the person behind or in front of you” or “Ask/Explain why.”  Please know that I do scaffold these to the best of my ability in order to promote feelings of success and them producing accurate output.  Even if the output is not grammatically correct, I do not think that the short timeframe harms any of the student’s language.

My Morpheme, Suffix, and Prefix / Word Relations Packet

When I present this packet to my Spanish IV students – I tell them “If you consider this packet to be busy work, it kind of is, but it is one that will help you and because of this I keep using it!”  It is a packet of cognate work and word connections in Spanish and English.  I use a list that I adapted from the late Rita Braves, who was one of my high school Spanish teachers, who shared her passion of language, learning, and culture with me.

A few years ago I did not use the packet and I know my student’s reading skills suffered.  For the past two years my students report that they feel their reading skills are better off because it helps them decipher words while reading.  With regard to their output, I often experience this phenomena with my Spanish IV students (Intermediate low-high) who want to know how to say something in Spanish, and after the word study, I can often just respond with “Spanishfy it” or make it Spanish.  Since we have made these language connections they can make up the word and their vocabulary is truly amplified.  Although I cannot publish the packet, since many of the worksheets are from other sources, I will put a copy of my Spanish Word Relationship List in the resources.

Overall the year of three preps has had some bumps along the way and one very tired teacher, but wow my students are starting to show growth in all of their abilities, and for that I am thrilled, and they too are seeing the growth.

Until later in the fall when “Christmas Bells are Ringing” a bit more.  

My First Two Weeks: Respect, Routines, Plus Language

What a couple of weeks! It is incredible how much goes into the first full two weeks of school. This year I am teaching Spanish II, III and IV (the past two years I have only had Spanish II and IV).  So in addition to a third prep, figuring out my routine and new class schedule (similar for students) is the greatest challenge as we all find our new rhythm.

Regardless of figuring out a new fascinating rhythm, I am able to rely on many language activities, routines, and procedures that have made the last two weeks feel very successful and rewarding. The goal of the first few weeks or month of school needs to be more about developing the procedures necessary for maintaining classroom management instead of just trying to teach language.

Don’t get me wrong, these last two weeks have been full of language acquisition, learning, and practice – but the truth is that setting the tone, procedures, expectations, establishing community, and learning students’ names have been my ultimate classroom goals. I learned this essential piece the hard way, even as a seasoned teacher who went to teacher school when I transitioned to my new position four years ago. What I soon realized was that many of the same routines and procedures developed by master teachers in elementary and middle school grades could and should apply to a high school setting. I must thank Bryce Hedstrom ( for his careful articulation of procedures and expectations for students that he has shared because so many of them have helped me be a stronger teacher.

Fortunately I do not have to take a management approach of “not smiling until December,” and I am able to still build the ideal rapport with my students while consistently reinforcing my expectations. The truth is that maintaining consistency is challenging and at times not fun, but then I remember the times of feeling helpless with an unruly class, which was much worse that just being consistent. My high school students need as much follow through and reminders as fifth graders; in fact, I have the luck of being married to a fifth grade teacher, who is a master in developing classroom routine and structure so over the years we have had many conversations on the topic. Knowing this, I cannot expect my students to follow all of the rules and procedures only after telling them once nor can I feel that my directing and retraining of student behavior is a waste of precious time for language learning or providing comprehensible input. I believe this a fallacy for many teachers especially in school cultures rushing to teach for the test and get results. Teachers and administrators must set the limits and enforce them in order to provide safe learning environments for all students. I do not feel we must all be authoritative disciplinarians but we must create learning environments with limits and respect.

Over the past two weeks, I have worked through many activities and limit setting pieces within my lessons in order to develop some of the skills necessary for language acquisition and/or learning to occur. I do not find this area to be my strongest suit and I am always adding new pieces to my arsenal. This year I have included a new call and response system that I saw beautifully demonstrated by Alina Filipescu at IFLT this summer. She uses many catchphrases (the call) that she trains her students to listen for and when said, students must reply with another piece (the response). Of course, this takes training but once the expectation is set, it becomes second nature and helps demand that students are listening and watching. There are some elements of body language used in the system; for example, I raise my hand for an all-class response and Alina leans forward with her body. For the past two years, I have successfully incorporated Bryce Hedstrom’s “Clase/Sí señor/a” when the teacher says “Clase” and students respond “Sí, señor/a.” This is how I have requested students’ attention and now I have incorporated many more into my daily routine: Alina’s “1,2,3 / No inglés (No English)” and “Mira, Escucha / Estamos en la lucha (Look, Listen / We are in the battle/fight),” some classics like “Hola, hola / Coca-Cola,” “A,E,I,O,U / El burro sabe más que tú” and a few of my own: “4,5,6 / no móviles (no cell-phones),” “Estamos juntos / hasta el fin. (We are together, until the end),” “Otra cosa / poderosa (another powerful thing)” and “Es viernes / gracias a dios (It’s Friday, thank god.)” My new ones were developed as I was backwards planning structures that I know my students will need in the future (juntos, cosa, poderosa, dios).

Setting a respectful tone and safe classroom is very important for me as an educator. We discuss that using inappropriate or sexist/racist/homophobic language is not permitted in our community and there will be consequences. I use the same infraction system as cellphone usage in class: first offense is an after school detention, second is a call home and detention, and third is an office referral. From a curricular stand-point, I have chosen to begin my Spanish II and III classes with the song “Colores, Colores” by Bacilos because the song talks about diversity and how people feel they are superior because of their skin color yet students do not get this message when just listening to this fun and catchy song. I do four to six days of short language listening lessons with the final day viewing a student made video of images ( – yes there are some language errors in the written Spanish). The images are powerful and simply having students define the meaning of the lyrics with the pictures allows them to see that this fluffy and fun song is much deeper. Along those same lines, Spanish III and IV students were engaged in a Movietalk using the “Paper, Rock, Scissors” Android commercial ( I know many have used this in it the past, but it was a first for me, and it worked like a charm. Again, incorporating these resources help set the tone of respect in my room the same way when I correct a student’s behavior for being rude during a competitive game of Quizlet Live.

I do not want it to seem like language and comprehensible input were not an important piece of the equation from day one; it absolutely was and students were not introduced to a syllabus until day three. In all of my levels, we worked toward 90% target language for us all using James Asher’s TPR (Total Physical Response), Ben Slavic’s Card Talk (aka Circling with Balls), name games, discussing the date, day, weather and emotions, reporting what happened or will happen over the weekend, passwords, asking a story, reading a story, a Movietalk, a song, learning how to use, our first ten minute free write, and seven minutes of silent-sustained reading. All of these pieces needed routine building and training. The first two weeks provided the initial experiences of these important aspects of my classes.

Now it is my job to continually go over the routines for each of these activities and be consistent in expectations while also incorporating more. I know that it has taken me my whole Mosaic of World Language Teaching to get to the point to have such a full and what I think meaningful two weeks. What I always have had to remember as a teacher is that we are all at different places in our careers and our experiences. For teachers reading this, please do not feel you ever need to incorporate every aspect that I have included above (because we often want to include it all). We must all look at our teaching and process by polishing one piece of our mosaics at a time. These two weeks reminded me that a bit of self-care is also needed – when I was on the brink of losing my voice. Teaching with lots of comprehensible input and establishing the routines required lots of talking and I had to make some lesson design decisions around the fact that I needed to save my voice. We all must do what we need to do to be effective for our students and ourselves.

I am leaving the post with this message from Wicked the Musical. After reflecting on my first two weeks, I know that I must set the limits for my students (and myself) and then with my students we’ll be “Unlimited. Together we’re unlimited. Together we’ll be the greatest team there’s ever been.” I believe that working on procedures, routines, respect, and limits will allow us all to be unlimited and grow together. Over the next few weeks I will include some classroom jobs, which will enhance our community and team even more.