Back to School Resource Library Plus an Amazing Giveaway!!!

It’s almost that time. The summer days are slowly (okay, quickly) rolling by, and the back to school season is sneaking up on us. It’s an exciting moment, filled with so much hope and possibility – This will be the year I finally get my class the way I want it! These will be the students that I will share a deep and lasting bond with! I will be organized! I will be inspiring! My classroom will be a magical place filled with glitter and unicorns!

But alongside the excitement, there’s maybe just a teensy weensy little bit of panic setting in. All those plans we had for everything we would accomplish over break… well, it all seemed possible two months ago. But now, you’d need 6 more weeks working 32-hour days with the help of a magical fairy assistant to get it all done. Oh, and coffee. Lots of coffee.

If only there were a place you could go to find tons of incredible resources that you could use in your class to save you hours of lesson prep and activity creation. Guess what?!? There is!!! I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with several Spanish teacher friends to create a library with 27 free resources for you to download and use in your secondary Spanish class!!! My colleagues are some amazingly talented people with so many creative ideas – you definitely won’t want to miss this! If you teach elementary school, we’ve got a version for you too!

Oh, and did I mention we can help with the coffee too? Along with the free resource library, we’re also hosting a HUGE giveaway, where you can win one of EIGHT different gift cards, including $50 to Starbucks!!!The Rafflecopter ends Wednesday, July 25 at 11:59pm (Pacific Time). Here are all the prizes you could win:

  • $100 Target gift card
  • $100 TpT gift card
  • $100 Amazon gift card
  • TWO $50 Target gift cards
  • TWO $50 TpT gift cards
  • $50 Starbucks gift card

My friends on Secondary Spanish Space are hosting our giveaway on their site, so head on over now to enter!

The giveaway and free resource library may not be quite as good as a magical fairy assistant or a 32-hour day, but we think they come pretty darn close, and might just be what you need to take some of the panic out of back-to-school season. Enjoy!

To Get the Most Out of a Music Activity, Turn the Music… Off?!?

Click here for my activity packet on “Vamos on la playa”, but beware! This song is VERY eighties!

It sounds counterintuitive, right? You’ve found the perfect song — it has a catchy tune that your students are just going to LOVE, the lyrics are comprehensible and full of examples of the exact grammar point you’re working on, and it ties in perfectly to your thematic unit. When you find a gold mine like that, you absolutely cannot wait to pull up YouTube or iTunes and get the music cranking. At least I can’t. I just want to rush into the classroom and yell “YOU GUYS! WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR THE AMAZING SONG I FOUND! WE ARE GOING TO HAVE THE BEST CLASS EVER!” (And I have to make good on this 99% of the time to make up for the one class period I will spring Righeira’s “Vamos a la playa” on them!)

As much as I want to turn up the volume right away and get my students up and out of their seats for an impromptu dance party, I’ve found that this isn’t necessarily the most effective strategy. After all, I’ve got a long list of objectives that I’m trying to accomplish when I bring music into the class: reinforcing vocabulary, working with examples of grammar in context, practicing a variety of listening comprehension strategies, and mining both the lyrics and the music video for cultural content, not to mention convincing my students that Spanish is awesome and fun and totally worth learning. In the past, even when I’ve warmed them up with a pre-listening activity and given them a targeted exercise to complete while listening to the song, I’ve found that my students can feel more overwhelmed than inspired if we try to do too much at once. We make it through the song for the first time, and I’ve got one group of students who have dutifully completed their cloze activity, but kept their eyes so focused on the paper that they didn’t see a single second of the music video and barely even heard the music, so now they are no more engaged than if I had read to them out of the dictionary; and another group of students who were definitely rocking out, but got distracted and now have half-completed worksheets and are sitting there bugging their friends for the answers; and a third group that’s all stressed out because they didn’t know that one word in the first verse and by the time they finished sneaking out their phones so they could look it up, because they need to understand every single word or they haven’t understood anything, they’d missed 6 more verses with 8 more unfamiliar terms.

So one day, I tried something a bit… unorthodox. I turned the volume off. Our first time through the song was completely silent. And it. was. awesome.

Click here for my activity packet to use “Hoy es domingo” in your classroom!

I first tried this with “Hoy es domingo,” by Diego Torres. (Side note: If you haven’t used this song yet with your students, you absolutely have to give it a try! This is one of my all-time favorites!) We were doing a unit on hobbies and pastimes, and I was SO excited to find this gem – not only is it comprehensible and filled with tons of thematically relevant vocabulary, but it is a gorgeous portrayal of Latin culture and lends itself naturally both to making cultural comparisons and to exploring the connection between cultural practices and perspectives. (ACTFL for the win!)

For homework the night before, I’d asked my students to create a schedule of their typical week. Our pre-listening activities involved sharing these schedules with a partner, focusing especially on the weekends, and then working as a class to brainstorm a list of the most common ways that American students spend their free time. “Hoy es domingo” is from an album called Buena vida, so for the next activity, I gave them a list of factors that could be considered necessary elements of “the good life,” such as family, money, friendship, and a career, and asked my students to rank them in order of importance. The combination of the two activities not only activated the relevant vocabulary related to hobbies and pastimes, but also got them thinking about the relationship between how we spend our free time (cultural PRACTICES) and what we value (cultural PERSPECTIVES).

In the past, I would have played them the song at this point, and I did pull up the music video, but I muted the sound before I hit play. We sat there in complete silence for 4 minutes and 36 seconds while watching an assortment of people walk their dogs, brew coffee, grill food, and break out into spontaneous dancing in the streets. My students’ task was to determine how they thought Diego Torres would have completed the first two activities — what does he do on a typical Sunday, and how would he rank the various factors of “the good life”? — based only on what they could see in the video.

It was magical. I had been worried that the visuals alone wouldn’t be enough to hold their attention for that long, but they were completely rapt. After it was over, I heard a few students exclaiming that they were ready to move to Latin America already, several more talking about how much they couldn’t wait to hear the song after seeing the video, and one girl who had to leave early lamenting the fact that she had to miss the rest of class.

The rest of the class followed a familiar routine. We watched the video again, this time with the sound on, and they completed a variety of activities to check their comprehension, reinforce the relevant vocabulary and grammar, and dig deeper into the cultural content. The difference was in how productive that work was. My students were completely engaged for the entire lesson. They dug into all of the activities and made really thoughtful cultural connections. It was one of those classes that just works, where everything comes together in all the ways you had hoped and both you and your students leave feeling completely energized. And the highlight came a few weeks later, when I heard one of my students playing music from her personal playlist and realized she was listening to “Hoy es domingo”!

After seeing how well that class went, I now turn the music off anytime I want to introduce a new song to my students. But why does it work? Here’s what I think:

  • It lets students focus on one aspect of the song at a time. Trying to process loads of new linguistic input while being bombarded with flashy images can completely fry their poor brains. By turning off the sound, they can relax and concentrate just on the visual information before they dive in to processing the language.
  • It encourages students to practice using context clues to interpret what is being communicated. This translates into better listening comprehension skills in general, as they become more adept at looking for nonverbal cues like facial expressions, gestures, and body language. I think sometimes students are hesitant to believe that this “counts” as understanding Spanish; they feel like they’re cheating if they only know what we’re saying because we acted it out or pointed to a picture. By taking away all of the words, we can reinforce the message that not only are they not cheating when they use these interpretive strategies, but that we want them to do so.

    Click here to check out my newest Spanish song unit to incorporate a silent predictive pre-listening activity!

  • It results in a more meaningful interaction with the target culture. Students aren’t just relying on what we say about the culture, but rather are drawing their own conclusions based on their interaction with the culture. Of course, we still have to guide them by giving them a carefully crafted task to help them hone in on the most relevant images, but I think sometimes we get so focused on working with the language of a song that we forget just how much cultural information is encoded in the visual imagery.
  • It prepares students to better understand the lyrics once we turn the music on. Add this into your repertoire along with KWL charts and discussion questions as a great way to activate their prior understanding and get them to make predictions about what they will hear.
  • It gets them really excited about the music. Delayed gratification is so much more… well, gratifying. Seeing the video is like a little teaser that lets their enthusiasm build!

So next time you’re ready to crank up the tunes in class, think about turning them off first. It might just turn out that the proverbial wisdom is right – silence really is golden… as a teaching tool!

Did you give this a try? Let me know how it went in the comments, or share other fabulous strategies you have for incorporating music into your class!


Help! My Spanish Teacher Is Crazy!!!

Or, how to start the year off right in a foreign language class

Do you ever have one of those moments where you plan the best activity ever for your class, and it falls completely flat because your students would literally rather die than participate? No? Just me? Am I the only one who sometimes thinks maybe I just should have gone into dentistry, because getting students to talk in class is a lot like pulling teeth? Ever ask a question and have a room full of students looking somewhat like this guy?

My last post was all about the importance of being willing to risk looking ridiculous in the foreign language classroom, but how do we get students to do this? Students have to feel safe making mistakes, and it’s up to us to create a classroom environment where it’s okay to step outside our comfort zone, and even okay to look a little bit silly doing so.

Day 1 of any class is about setting expectations. Often, this means going over the syllabus, talking about major assignments, or reviewing grading policies. (Pardon me for a moment while I yawn. Is it REALLY a good idea to bore our students to tears before we’ve even taught them anything?) That’s probably what students are expecting when they walk through my door. But I always have something a little different up my sleeve for day one. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still setting expectations. I’ve just chosen a different set of expectations to focus on, and a rather unorthodox method of addressing them.

The class looks something like this…

I survey my students, looking for that perfect first victim, preferably someone who gives off a bit of a class clown vibe. Don’t get me wrong, none of them are safe, but it usually helps to start things off with someone who likes to be the center of attention. I see one of my athletes, already joking comfortably with his buddies… perfect! I catch his eye and make the “come here” gesture with my finger.

Now I’ve got him up in front of the class. I smile, then turn and start banging my head against the wall (gently, mind you, but very theatrically). He looks at me in confusion. The rest of the class is caught somewhere between laughter and bewilderment. I pause just long enough to point at him, then at the wall, indicating that he should copy my behavior.

“Wait, you want me to… naww… do I have to? You really want me to bang my head against the wall?!?!?”

I nod and smile, then do a few more head bangs myself just to make sure he’s got the point. He laughs, but complies, to the great delight of all of his classmates. I leave him to his head banging and move on.

Next, I find a couple of my girls who look particularly outgoing and use hand signals to indicate that I want them to stand up. All the way up. Yup, I want them up on top of their chairs or desks or tables, depending on the particular classroom setup. Of course, in order to show them this, I have to climb up on top of my desk too. (Mental note: Make sure never to wear a dress on the first day!) I just get up there when I notice my head banger has stopped banging, thinking I’m done with him. Oh no, not yet. Back down I jump, heading over to his spot on the wall and repeating my pantomimed instructions to keep the head banging going.

Now that he’s back in action, I can return to my girls on top of their chairs. I hop back up on my desk and start disco dancing à la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. (Disco is great for this, because you can look pretty darn ridiculous without having to move your feet much.) My girls start giggling, looking somewhat embarrassed, but they do comply and start busting out some moves.

By now, everyone knows what’s coming. I go around the room, sometimes taking one student at a time, sometimes groups of two or three, and giving each of them something utterly preposterous to do. Occasionally I have to swing by an earlier group and restart them if they’re slacking off (I’m looking at you, head banger!) Before long, the entire class is filled with teenagers doing everything from square dancing to strutting around like chickens. I step back and watch them for a minute or two, then finally, I give the signal that they can stop what they’re doing and go back to their seats.

Then, and only then, do I say my first words to them. We have a discussion about the activity – how did it make them feel? Why did I start our Spanish class off this way? And what on earth have they signed up for?

I’ve done this for the past 5 years, and as goofy as it sounds (and, in truth, it really is pretty ridiculous), I have found the activity to be an incredibly effective way to establish the classroom environment I’m shooting for, right from the opening minutes of the semester. I find it helps me communicate two very important messages to my students:

1. There is absolutely no need to use English in this classroom

There will be times when you will feel like do not understand a single word that is coming out of my mouth. That is okay. That is normal. I am fully prepared to use body language and other forms of non-verbal communication to help me get my message across. If I can get you playing leapfrog and doing the can-can without ever speaking a word, then seriously, what’s the limit? I’d rather have you resort to gestures and signs when you don’t understand, rather than flipping back to English. English is a crutch. You will think you need it, but you don’t. 

2. This is a classroom where risk-taking is encouraged

You will make mistakes this semester. It is absolutely unavoidable when you are learning a language. You may feel really silly when you do. You may feel embarrassed. You may worry that other people are judging you. Guess what? You will never look more ridiculous making a mistake than you just did dancing around this classroom. You have already experienced your most embarrassing moment in this class! The worst is over! It’s all downhill from here! So go ahead – take a risk, give it a try. You might get it wrong, and that’s not only okay, it’s something to celebrate. We learn when we make mistakes. 

Every semester, I have to remind myself of my own lessons, particularly the second one. Every semester, I consider starting my classes off more traditionally. Every semester, I worry about that all-important first impression; I worry that my students will have no respect for me, that they’ll think I’m just a goof who thinks she’s fun but is really just super uncool. And every semester, I take a deep breath, walk into that classroom, and start banging my head against a wall again. I’m always glad I did.

Did you give this activity a try with your students? What else do you do to encourage your students to take risks? Do you have a special technique you use to help lower the affective filter in your classroom? Tell me about it in the comments!