Sunday, February 18, 2018

How to Use a Picture Book in WL Class When the Text is Too Difficult for Your Students

PICTURE BOOKS ARE AN AMAZING WAY TO BRING LANGUAGE LEARNING AND LITERATURE together in class, but many contain text that is too challenging for the proficiency level our students are at. What happens when we find an absolutely BEAUTIFUL book, with tremendous illustrations, and even better, one that is authentic to the native culture....but the language is far too difficult? (Disclaimer: I'm a sucker for gorgeous illustrations! I collect picture books as much for the pictures as for the story-I bet a bunch of you do, too!). Below is one way to help you bridge the gap between an incomprehensible storyline and your classes:

How to Use a Picture Book in World Language Classes

DO A PICTURE WALK: this is one of my favorite ways to incorporate picture books without having to worry AT ALL about the text. In the gen ed classroom, doing a picture walk is common practice when introducing a picture book. The method entails "walking" through the book without reading it, merely looking at the pictures, making observations about what is transpiring, and in many cases, making predictions about what will happen next. Sometimes a teacher won't show the final page(s) in order to maintain a surprise ending. We can harness this idea with a little modification in the FOREIGN LANGUAGE classroom! Here's how:

*CHOOSE A PICTURE BOOK with a good set of illustrations that provide enough detail and interest for your students, and do a good job of "spelling out" the story without reading the text. The alternative could be to choose a book which has beautiful representations of the target culture, much like the one above, 'Sube y baja por los Andes' by Laurie Krebs from Barefoot Books. (Link here!).

*USING THE ILLUSTRATIONS MUCH LIKE A PICTURE PROMPT, only with far more visual input to work with!, share the first illustration and have your students provide vocabulary/sentences describing what they see. Ask them questions about what is in the picture to broaden and extend the conversation (this is a great way to SPIRAL old vocabulary back into the mix!). The simple version of this method is to just keep doing this throughout the book, generating more and more vocabulary and reaction from your students. Your novices can create word lists or answer yes/no, either/or questions about the pictures, and answer Do you like? type prompts.

How to Use A Picture Book in Foreign Language Classes

*USE CULTURAL ILLUSTRATIONS as prompts to compare and contrast life in the target culture and the one shared by your students. What is the same/different? Make a Venn Diagram or a T chart to record answers. For example, in the above picture, the boy is wearing traditional Peruvian clothing, including a poncho/ ruana, and un chullo. With little students, you could do an easy compare and contrast activity by sharing photos gleaned from the internet or your own experience of these articles of clothing and typical coats/ winter hats in the US.

*HAVE OLDER STUDENTS/ ONES WITH A HIGHER PROFICIENCY LEVEL? (yes, picture books are great with high school students, too!) Go beyond the description conversation to encourage your students to start "writing" the storyline themselves, either by sharing orally, or writing in a journal or on individual whiteboards. You can record their sentences in Google drive so they can be shared out, or so you can go back and use them in a variety of additional activities such as making sentence strips to cut up so partners can put them together and order them, make color copies of the pages and have kids match the sentence strips to the illustrations, or have them write an alternate ending.

*PREDICTING IS A GREAT WAY to incorporate the future tense- before turning the page, have students predict what will happen next. When you turn the page, see if their predictions were correct! How or how not? Then continue with the storyline, predicting once again before turning the next page.

*USE SOCIAL MEDIA SITES LIKE SNAPCHAT AND INSTAGRAM with your older students-have them take a photo of one page, upload it to Snapchat or Instagram and create a #booksnap (where they write a quick blurb or description of the picture) to share with the rest of the class-super fun!

HAVE A FAVORITE PICTURE BOOK you've been wanting to use in class? Let us know which it is in the comments!

Have fun!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shifting Your Mindset to Reach 90% in the Target Language

HAVE YOU MADE IT A GOAL TO USE MORE TARGET LANGUAGE IN CLASS? LOOKING TO HIT THAT 90% RECOMMENDATION FROM ACTFL? One of the biggest things I learned when I made the move to bump my TL usage in class was that I had to SHIFT MY MINDSET; I was operating under a set of assumptions that were getting in my way, and as I speak with other foreign language teachers, I often hear those same assumptions expressed. Here are some things that I needed to shift in order to be successful in delivering a 90% classroom- maybe they will strike a chord with you, too:

Teaching 90% in the Target Language- Shifting Your Mindset

FIRSTLY, I HAD TO RECOGNIZE THAT IT CAN ACTUALLY BE DONE! Or rather, that all aspects of class CAN be done in the TL. Although I had been teaching a lot of my class in the target language already, I realized that there were still areas where I thought it just couldn't be done in the TL. For my part, the biggest area was certain aspects of culture, specifically those 'facts' around holidays, celebrations, traditions, famous people, etc. Other areas I commonly hear teachers mention are class expectations and routines, classroom management and relationships with kids. Barring complicated topics like grading and homework expectations at middle and high school level, most, if not all of these, can be done in the TL and/or with minimal English. The trick is in firstly making the commitment to do so-then figuring out HOW to do so. (be sure to check out my Pinterest board for ideas and links to more of my blog posts on this! Click here)

ANOTHER SHIFT HAS COME IN HOW I PLAN MY CLASSES... 90% in the TL still allows for some English to be spoken. However, since it is very limited, I have found that I have to be very INTENTIONAL in what I am going to say in English, not just what activities (and how I will do them) in Spanish. This intentionality around English has been very different from my previous planning, where I didn't even necessarily take that into account. Now, I identify beforehand WHAT I will be saying in English, whether it is framing a conversation, translating a key word(s), stating the lesson/theme goal, highlighting a key concept, etc. I have this decided prior to starting the lesson, which also helps me to stay in Spanish. And, given in my 30 minutes classes I have about 3 minutes for English (or less) being intentional really makes a difference in how I proportion the class language usage.

A BIG SHIFT HAS COME IN TERMS OF DITCHING WHAT DOESN'T WORK IN A 90% CLASSROOM. This can be a hard one for a lot of teachers; beloved lessons that we've done for years may need to be thrown out the window because they do not work, perhaps because the instructions for the activity are too complicated to do in the TL for the proficiency level of the students, or the activity itself really isn't at the right proficiency level, or the content we want to impart is too complicated to do in the TL... there are a lot of factors as to why an activity may need to be dumped. I re-evaluated (and continue to do so) my activities, and threw out a whole bunch, or modified them to be more in line with a 90% classroom. This did mean saying good bye to some projects I have loved over the years, this has meant I don't share some "deeper" information about some cultural topics, this has meant I've reworked themes to have more input in the TL, and that has been a lot of work. However, my goal is highlighted in the quote above in the photo- I want to provide enough input to increase the proficiency level of my students, and if an activity that I am doing doesn't meet that goal, I am willing to get rid of it or change it to make it further that goal. That is the guiding principle for myself-does this move my kids forward in SPANISH?

I will say that an elementary foreign language teacher has several luxuries that high school teachers, in particular, do not have...most notably, the luxury of seeing a long time span for kids to interact with the language. My kiddos start in Kindergarten and have the opportunity to study Spanish all the way to graduation. That's a very different timeline than a student who starts in 9th grade and takes 2 years to satisfy a credit requirement. I recognize that sometimes it is easy to say 'you can do this in the TL, you just have slow down and take more time to do things.' but for a high school teacher, time feels urgent and textbooks and curricula demand you 'move on quickly'. However, even for those teachers, making it a goal to increase the amount of TL used in class, whatever the percentage ultimately, is only going to benefit your students in the long run. The long term perspective, meaning a student's whole life, enables us all to look at that goal as the worthy one in the end.

 I really hope my reflection has sparked some ideas for how you can move towards more TL use in your classroom! Please let me know your thoughts and reflections in the comments- I LOVE to hear what you are doing in your room!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Give Bingo a Twist!

BINGO, A WELL LOVED GAME FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGE CLASSES! Great for practicing all sorts of vocabulary, the combinations are endless and always timely. As I was walking down the hallway this morning, I saw a group of my second graders playing math bingo-BUT WITH A TWIST! (and I immediately said to myself, I gotta share this!) They were playing what I dub 'REVERSE BINGO'... in other words, instead of starting with no chips on the board and covering squares as they are called, the board is covered with chips to start with, and as vocabulary is called, the chips are removed until someone has uncovered 5 in a row- ¡BINGO!

Bingo with a twist for foreign language classes

NOW, I AM SURE THIS ISN'T ALL THAT ORIGINAL, but I just love the idea of turning the game around to give my students a little something unexpected, and therefore a little more motivating. Nothing like novelty to spice things up! I'd love to hear how you mix up Bingo-or any other traditional game-share in the comments!

AND FOR ANOTHER FUN GAME TO PLAY, check out this post on how to play GATO with the whole class!

IN SEARCH OF A NEW BINGO GAME? How about ours with colors? Find it here!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

5 Activities to Incorporate the Winter Olympics in Spanish Class

I'M A HUGE FAN OF THE OLYMPICS, AND MOST ESPECIALLY THE WINTER OLYMPICS, when countries from around the world get together, there's lots of excitement in the air, and we root for our favorite teams and athletes. Being an international event, the Olympics lend themselves very well to foreign language classes, and it goes without saying it's a great opportunity to teach sports vocabulary in are FIVE ACTIVITIES to incorporate them in class:

Incorporate the Winter Olympics in Spanish Class

1) CHOOSE A COUNTRY TO FOLLOW DURING THE OLYMPICS: head over to the official Olympics website (click here and their official Spanish channel here), change the language to the target language you teach by scrolling down and clicking on the little globe (see photo below), and use the website to follow competitions and medal counts.

2) DID SOMEONE SAY SPORTS VOCABULARY? There are so many ways you could use this vocabulary in and of itself-movement activities, 4 corners listening comprehension, a poll or interview of your favorite sport to do or watch during the Olympics, play Charades, play Bingo with the vocabulary, and so on.

3) THE MASCOTS ARE SO CUTE!: Each Olympics there are two mascots, one for the Olympics and one for the ParaOlympics, and they are adorable (even though I'm not sure what a few of them are lol)! Pull up this page from the Olympics site and use the mascots for vocabulary practice-year, type of animal/mascot, what color they are, what they are wearing, etc. Below is a super awesome video of the PyeongChang mascot, Soohorang, participating in each of the winter sports-fantastic for vocabulary practice!

4) USE HULA HOOPS TO REPRESENT THE RINGS: For little learners, placing hula hoops on the floor, identifying their colors, and then doing a bean bag toss (or other small item) is a fun way to bring the Olympics to a preschool or early elementary class room. You can name the color they must aim for, or, for older kiddos, you could assign a number to each ring, then keep score based on which ring their bean bag goes into. TIP: Talk to your Phys Ed teacher to borrow hula hoops!

5) MOUNT YOUR OWN VERSION OF THE OLYMPICS IN CLASS! Create stations with different sports for a game day, provide game vocabulary posters in the target language and have some fun! I've saved a number of photos and games you can do in class on my Pinterest board here! (I'm super partial to the bobsled races lol!)

Incorporating the Olympics in Foreign Language Class

WHAT OTHER IDEAS DO YOU HAVE? Share in the comments!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ideas for Using a Wildlife Nature Documentary in Foreign Language Class

I LOVE NATURE DOCUMENTARIES, AND SO DO MY ELEMENTARY SPANISH STUDENTS!  Animals of all kinds are of high interest to my students, and there is so much you can glean from even a short clip. And, they serve really well with any proficiency or grade level; you just adjust your questions to be appropriate for your students. Weather, climate, habitats, geographical features, adjectives of all kinds, verbs, animal vocabulary, emotions, family vocabulary, food, ecosystems, environment, conservation, food chains...the list goes on in terms of what you can tap into depending on the clip you use and the level of your students.

Ideas for Using a Wildlife Nature Documentary in Spanish Foreign Language Class


*WATCH A SHORT CLIP rather than the whole thing. You may find that given your time constraints, a portion of a video may be better than trying to show the whole thing. Even a clip of 2-3 minutes can be stretched depending on the activities you do with it.

*FOR MY ELEMENTARY STUDENTS, I typically don't expect them to understand the narration; the language is usually too challenging. However, depending on the clip, I can have them listen for specific words (naturally I preview the clip ahead of time) and instruct them to raise their hands when they hear particular words.

*Q/A: the easiest way to view a wildlife / nature documentary with students is to preview it ahead of time, developing a list of questions you can ask your students, and then as you are watching it together, hit the pause button each time you want to ask a question. I also like to get kids to expand on their answers when, if I ask ¿Hace frío o calor? and they answer 'Hace frío', I might follow up with '¿Hace mucho frío? (Imagine a documentary of penguins for ex!) or if we are watching a sloth and I ask 'What is the sloth doing?' and the answer is 'climbing', I could then ask 'Is he climbing quickly or slowly?' and so on.

*WATCH THEN SHARE: Much like 'Turn and Talk/Share' the idea behind this activity is to show a short clip of a video, then have kids turn to a partner and share something about what they have seen. For novices, particularly Novice Low, this could be as simple as naming something they've seen, while for students with more proficiency, they could describe using sentences. Or for more advanced students, you could pose a question that elicits an opinion or a statement of position, such as 'Why do you think the people are converting habitat into farmland? or 'Should the government stop the clearing of land in this region?'. Students share their answer/opinion/position with their partner and vice versa.

*WHICH DO YOU LIKE MOST?: At the end of the clip, create a voting chart to practice the sentence 'I like ___ the most'. Write the names of some of the animals shown in the clip/ video as columns, then have students tell which is their favorite/ the one they like the most. Count up the answers at the end and determine the most popular animal from that clip!

NOTE: A couple of things I have learned include the following
-don't show videos of animals hunting or eating other animals to elementary students. Though we all know it's just part of life, it can really upset some children. Better to not use it, or at least not that part of the video.
-another no show is animals fighting or mating. Again, disturbing and weird for little kids. Not something you want them to go home and tell their families about.

INTERESTED IN SEEING HOW THIS CAN LOOK IN YOUR CLASS? Here is a clip of one of my Kindergarten classes last year watching the preview to a Spanish film on Cantábrico

The link to the trailer we watched is here: and for more nature videos, you can visit my Pinterest board here, where I've saved a number of them, (Be sure to vet first to ascertain appropriate content for your level of students):

AND DON'T MISS OUR NEW NON FICTION MAGAZINE SUBSCRIPTION! The first edition (Jan-Apr 2018) focuses on endangered animals of South America-each issue comes with a series of Youtube links to reinforce learning! Click here to subscribe!

Mira el Mundo Non Fiction Magazine Subscription in Spanish

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Simple Cultural Comparison Activity About Christmas Trees

I FREQUENTLY LIKE TO BEGIN MY CLASSES WITH A QUESTION OR POLL, something simple that my students of any ability can answer and engage in. These types of activities are particularly great for novice learners as there is entry for all. During the month of December I like to ask about decorations and traditions my kiddos are doing at home (I teach in a district where all students celebrate Christmas, even the few Jewish families, who celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah), so I don't run the risk of leaving any little friends out.

OF COURSE, I AM ALWAYS LOOKING FOR A CULTURAL CONNECTION whenever possible, so I reached out to friends and colleagues in and from a variety of Spanish speaking countries to find out about what type of Christmas tree is most often put up, real or artificial. I put the results into a simple infographic that can be used to extend the question: Is your tree real or artificial, yes or no? I have purposely kept the text simple so even Novice Low students can access information. The circles are a general representation of the breakdown in each country represented (don't quote them as exact statistics :) ) A huge THANK YOU to all who helped me with this project!


Cultural Comparison of Christmas Trees in Spanish speaking countries

I ALSO RECORDED ONE OF MY 3RD GRADE CLASSES ANSWERING THE QUESTION ¿Has armado un árbol de navidad en casa? You can see the video here.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Christmas E Cards to Download in Multiple Languages

NEW CHRISTMAS E CARDS FOR 2017! Last year I debuted our FREE downloadable e cards, and have been hard at work making this year's set, featuring more languages! You can grab last year's if you missed them by clicking here :)

JUST CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW EACH E CARD, download and send some holiday cheer via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or email to family, friends and colleagues! Once again let's fill cyber space with multicultural and multilingual joy :)

French Christmas E Card
Click here to download
Spanish Christmas E Card
Click here to download
Russian New Years E card
Click here to download
Spanish Christmas E card
Click here to download
Bon nadal E card
Click here to download
German Christmas E Card
Click here to download