He is here!!

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Warner Allen Bex made his grand debut on September 10, 2014 at 12:54pm. His name means “Defender of Innocence”, and he is named after my grandfather and my husband’s dad. We pray that his life would embody the pure and faultless religion of James 1:27: to look after orphans and widows and to keep himself from being polluted by the world. Our mighty “little” warrior weighs 9lb 10oz, is 21 inches and very healthy…and hungry! We are both doing great, and I am praising Jesus for a safe delivery and a healthy son.

As you can imagine…my hands will be full on the home front, so the blog will be taking the sideline for the next little bit here.

Brain Breaks

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I woke up this morning to a notification in my Inbox of a new blog post from Cynthia Hitz–so I knew that it was going to be a good day :) In this particular post, Cynthia shares her BEAUTIFUL Brain Break Balloon Bulletin Board! I love it! If I had a classroom, I would definitely make my own this weekend.

Her post reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about brain breaks ever since last September or October when Michele Whaley shared some with us at our First Fridays meeting. One of the [many] things that I love about Michele is her passion for and pursuit of research–she constantly reads articles and research in diverse areas and looks for ways to apply her new knowledge to language instruction.

While Michele shared several of her brain breaks with our group, she also shared something that I had never learned–that the most effective brain breaks engage both hemispheres of the brain. I always thought that brain breaks were more about the “break” than about the “brain”–to give students a moment of respite from whatever task they are currently engaged in. Not so! Brain breaks are actually most effective when they are more about the “brain” than the “break”!

What does this mean? It’s totally fine and acceptable to do activities like listening to a favorite song (a la Cantaninja) or meditating for 1 minute and call them brain breaks, but the best brain breaks are physical activities that require students to cross their left/right axis: activities like “grab your left ear with your right hand and grab your nose with your left hand; now switch; now switch back”. By meeting this criterion, the brain break stimulates neurological pathways and requires BOTH hemispheres of the brain to work TOGETHER. Research shows that students are able to work more efficiently when they participate in kinesthetic, dual-hemisphere brain breaks every 20-25 minutes. Yes–students get a “break” from the task, but their brains are hard at work! Given this understanding of the purpose of a brain break, it is not relevant whether the activity is described and/or completed in the target language. However; if students are able to understand the instructions for the activity and complete the activity itself by speaking in the target language, then by all means, do it! After a year of physical-activity brain breaks in the target language, students will know the terms “left”, “right”, many TPR commands (like “jump”, “squat”, “switch”), and their body parts without ever having to suffer through a thematic unit on the topic.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 2.49.44 PMTo this end, I have compiled some of the most effective brain breaks that I have found around the web in this “Brain Breaks” document that you can download here. There is nothing fancy about the format–just descriptions of 20 activities on strips of paper–but you can easily use them to stuff into balloons, as Cynthia suggests. Alternatively, you could number 20 popsicle sticks 1-20 and put them in a jar, and then the class would complete whichever activity corresponds to the number on the stick that is drawn by a student. I wrote all of the descriptions in English, but I would highly recommend giving the directions for each activity to your students in the target language as long as students are able to understand it. Not all of the activities require students to cross the L/R axis, but most of them do.

Enjoy criss-crossin’ with your kiddos :)

There is/There are

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Hay–the word for “there is” or “there are” in Spanish–is one of the highest frequency structures in any language. However…it’s not one of the easiest to teach because it is difficult for students to form a mental picture with which to associate it. As with any new structure, give your students the translation (ideally, in written form; for pre-literate kids, tell them what it means verbally and remind them several times) and establish a gesture for it. It is important to give them the translation in addition to the gesture so that they do not misinterpret the gesture. My gesture for “hay” is to stand with my hands in front of me, open-palmed and beside each other, and then to dramatically pull them out to the sides, as if presenting something, like, “Here you go! Here it is!” (I keep promising one reader that I’ll film all of my gestures…one day…).

After providing a translation and establishing a gesture, I like to give students a few sample sentences with translations so that they can see it in context. Use cognates and structures that students have already learned, and write out both the original sentence and the translation if kids can read; otherwise, just say them:

  • Hay un problema – there is a problem.
  • Hay dos dinosaurios – there are two dinosaurs
  • ¿Hay un astronauta en el clóset? – Is there an astronaut in the closet?

Then, begin asking questions. Since this structure will most likely be taught very early in a student’s language career, the questions that you can ask are extremely limited. I love this idea from Carol Gaab, master TPRS® trainer and teacher and my personal heroine:

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Obviously, you would also need to teach “sombrero” (hat) and “debajo de” (underneath) to students. This is fine! In my experience, students can handle three new structures at a time provided that they are not too complicated or lengthy.

After reading Carol’s suggestion a few days ago, I happened to stumble across this activity suggestion from Spanish Playground while browsing Pinterest. To adapt it to use with this structure and “upgrade” the game a bit for older students, consider playing like this:

  1. Lay out a bunch of different candies on a tray. Candies work well because you can talk about them without translating since their names are proper nouns–this limits the vocabulary that students have to focus on. Try to get some common candies (like Skittles®, as Carol suggests, or Snickers®), but also find some more obscure ones. Lay out 1-5 pieces of each kind of candy.
  2. Give students 30 seconds to observe the candies that are laid out on the first tray and try to memorize what candy is on the tray and how many of each kind.
  3. Bring out as many objects as you had kinds of candy. Secretly place one kind of candy from the tray beneath each object: all three Milky Ways® beneath the hat; both Heath Bars® beneath the mug, and all five M&Ms® beneath the bowl.
  4. Divide the class into teams, and give each team a whiteboard.
  5. One by one, play the game as Carol suggests. Ask the class, “¿Qué hay debajo del sombrero?” (What is there below the hat?). Have students confer with their teammates and record their guess on the whiteboard. They should write down the number and kind of the candy that they think is beneath that hat, drawing on their memory of what was on the tray.
  6. Ask the question again, and then have the teams reveal their answers.
  7. Circle the answer from each team (click here if you are unfamiliar with circling).
  8. Reveal what is actually underneath the hat. Distribute points to each team based on the accuracy of their guess: one point if the number was correct; two points if the candy was correct; three points if both the number and the candy was correct. Adding this memory/logical angle to the activity serves to engage even your most intellectual students!
  9. Repeat with the next object and hidden candy. As the game continues, students will have to use the process of elimination and their memory to make accurate guesses. Continue until all candies have been revealed, then divide them amongst the class (giving the winning team their choice of candy first).

What are some other questions and activities that you use to teach the structure “Hay”?

La mamá vigilante Story Script

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Here is the story script for Unit 22 of my Spanish 1 curriculum (which I actually taught at the beginning of my students’ second year of Spanish in Spanish 1B). I have been referring to it as ‘La hija desobediente’ on my curriculum map, but I like ‘La mamá vigilante’ better :) The basic gist of the story is this: a kid sneaks out of the house with another person, a parent follows him/her, the kid keeps saying where s/he wants to go, and the parent stays or doesn’t stay outside each location as s/he continues to follow his/her child. The script is provided in English below.


  1. el jóven quiere ir – the young person wants to go
  2. se queda – s/he stays (remains)
  3. sigue – s/he follows

La mamá vigilante script


Kristina is a very disobedient girl, and she has a strict mom. When Kristina tells her mom, “I want to go to McDonald’s. Can I?”, her mom says, “No! McDonald’s is the worst!” When Kristina tells her mom, “I want to go to my friend’s house. Can I?”, her mom says, “No! Your friend is horrible!” When Kristina tells her mom, “I want to go to the movies to see Tangled. Can I?”, her mom says, “No! Disney is ruining the world!”

Kristina is very frustrated, and one night she decides to leave the house without permission. She leaves the house and walks toward a red car that’s in front of the house. Kristina thinks that her mom is sleeping, but her mom is not sleeping. She sees Kristina from the window. She stays in the house for a few minutes, but then she follows her daughter. She hides in the car.

In the car, there is a young guy. Kristina’s mom doesn’t know the guy. Kristina says, “I want to go to a bar”. The guy responds, “Okay”. They go to a bar in the car. When they enter the bar, Kristina’s mom doesn’t follow them; she stays in the car. Kristina and the guy stay in the bar for two hours. They dance and drink cokes. Then, Kristina says to the guy, “I want to go to the movies” and the guy responds, “Okay”. They go to the car. They don’t know that Kristina’s mom is in the car.

They go to the movies. They get out of the car and enter the theater. The mom doesn’t stay in the car; she follows them. They sit in the theater and stay there during the moive. The mom follows them. She sits behind them and watches them. After the movie, they stay in their seats for a few minutes and talk. Kristina tells the guy, “I want to go to a church”, and they leave the theater.

Kristina’s mom follows them and they go to the car. They go to a church and get out of the car. The mom doesn’t stay in the car because she is curious. She follows them. In the church, there is a pastor. Kristina and the guy say, “We want to get married”. The pastor asks, “Is there anyone against the union between this man and this woman?” All of a sudden, a woman stands up and yells, “Yeah-me! This guy is MY man!” But another woman stands up and yells, “NO! This guy is MY man!” The guy looks at the three girls, and Kristina’s mom sees his face. She knows the guy. She stands up and says, “Um, whatever! This man is MY man!”


Character Cards for First Day Seating

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Alright everyone, I am currently getting about five emails a day asking me to send the editable files for the character cards that I use for my first day seating assignments. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EMAIL ME TO ACCESS THESE FILES!! They are already uploaded, free, on Teachers Pay Teachers. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THEM.

If you don’t know what I am talking about, click here to read about how I assign seating on the first day of school.

Again, no need to email me….just click on this link and you can download the editable files for yourself!! They are already translated into French and Spanish, and you can edit them for any other language! 


30 {TCI} things I love

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Well, it has happened. This morning, I crossed the great divide into the land of the 30s. In honor of this life achievement, I would like to share one TPRS®/CI thing that I love for each year with which my sweet Lord has blessed me! In no particular order…

  1. Jesus Christ. If I weren’t able to rely on His strength, wisdom, and provision, I’d be spending my days curled up in a ball under my covers–not blogging or collaborating or chasing after my boys.
  2. Michele Whaley. I would still think that TPRS® was the west-coast’s acronym for TPR if it weren’t for her. Beyond that…well, if you’ve spent more than five minutes with Michele, she’s on your list, too, I’m sure!
  3. TPRS Publishing, Inc. I thank God every day for Pat and Carol Gaab and their amazing business! They provide invaluable training and mentorship to TPRS®/CI teachers, and their novels are fascinating for students and life-saving for teachers. Pat and Carol, I love you!!!
  4. Teachers Pay Teachers. This website has helped me to realize my dream of being a full-time mom to my boys and still working in the field that I love–language education!
  5. Laurie Clarcq. Can’t make a list about love without listing Laurie! She exudes caring and love for her students and her colleagues.
  6. Jennifer Pike’s pinboards. Seriously. They are amazing.
  7. #langchat While not technically a TPRS®/CI resource, #langchat has helped me to understand and articulate how the many trends in language education apply to TPRS®/CI teachers as I discuss them with colleagues that teach many different languages, in different ways, in different states and countries!
  8. Señora Spanglish Rides Again. Okay, aside from the fantastic blog title…I love Laura Sexton’s mind! She shares the ideas and instructional goals that she has, and then she shares the process, in great detail, of working toward those goals.
  9. Carrie Toth. Author of my favorite novel ever (La Calaca Alegre) and 2014 ACTFL Teacher of the Year Finalist, Carrie has no reason to acknowledge my un-renowned and un-distinguished existence, and yet I consider her a friend. I realized this week that her blog was missing from my ‘Blogs I love’ list, and I paid for this great sin of mine by eating five cookies in honor of her successful diet of which I am so jealous.
  10. Kristy Placido. Authentic resources, music, novels, beauty, humor, tenacity, and the best teacher stink-eye I’ve ever seen. Since Kristy was responsible for introducing TPRS to Michele, who introduced it to me, I guess you could say that she is my professional grandmother. I have great genes :)
  11. Grow Story Grow. Loooooooove this website. It’s electronic embedded reading–worth every penny.
  12. Embedded Reading. Embedded reading is an effective strategy for language teachers. Embedded Reading is an effective strategy developed by Laurie Clarcq and Michele Whaley for language teachers that facilitates language acquisition. Embedded Reading is a fabulous, effective, essential strategy developed by….you get the point.
  13. Scott Benedict. He saved my sanity and made me a better teacher by teaching me what Standards Based Assessment is and what it looks like in the language classroom. My students’ grades are now full of meaning!
  14. YouTube. Where would we be without this endless fount of content for #authres, MovieTalk, music, and more?? Thanks to Firefox’s add-ons, available in the ‘Tools’ menu, you can even download any of their vids at home so that you don’t have to deal with firewalls and streaming at school.
  15. Noah Geisel. He recently wrote about how blog posts that share lists are not as helpful as blog posts that share “one really great and practical suggestion that is accompanied by specific ideas and examples from real classrooms”. As you can tell, this post is not that ;-).
  16. Crystal Barragán. She embodies Noah Geisel’s recommendation for quality blog posts as described in #15. She takes a lesson plan, activity, strategy, method, etc. and explains exactly how to apply it to your classroom.
  17. Textivate.com. A truly excellent Web 2.0 tool for any language teacher–the site is constantly developing and adding more and more ways to interact with a text!
  18. Cynthia Hitz. As much as I love her cookies, I love her blog even more. And she uses iPads like nobody!
  19. Mira Canion. Oh, the mind of Mira! The only thing that saves my brain from exploding when I talk with Mira about language acquisition, world language education, and the meaning of life is her uncanny ability to locate really, really good food.
  20. Deidre Kelly, Kim Hart, Ellen Roberts, and everyone else that takes the time to email me when they notice an error, typo, or inconsistency in one of my products. You are so kind and so gracious to help me!
  21. Pages 4.3. I’m obsessed with pretty documents, and I couldn’t create them without this outdated, killer software that is no longer easily, legally available. Glad I had iWorks ’09 on a disk so I could re-install it after the newest version threatened to destroy everything I love about Word Processing!
  22. Sharon Birch. Hard to say whether I love her blog or her pinboards more. If you spend any amount of time digging through my blog archives, you’ll find more than a few ideas that I’ve gotten from her!
  23. Quizlet.com. This, along with Textivate, was my solution to the perpetually absent student. Make sure your target vocab list is up-to-date on Quizlet and your readings and stories are on Textivate, and your kiddos will be able to receive CI without any extra effort on your part.
  24. Ben Slavic. Without his blog, I never would have started TPRS in the first place. It gave me the scripts and education I needed to try it out! I finally met him the summer–talk about exciting!!
  25. Amazon.com. With free shipping to Alaska on orders over $35 (truly, this is a rarity), Amazon is my marketplace of choice. Whether I’m buying a doc cam, class whiteboards, videos, books, or any number of teacher essentials…I love Amazon! (I’ll be ordering the doc cam and whiteboards from my August giveaway from Amazon!)
  26. Kristin Duncan. She has a knack for finding the best resources and ideas from the TPRS®/CI world and cataloguing them in a systematic way that makes it easy to find exactly what you need, when you need it.
  27. First Fridays. Michele started this regional PLN, and it has sustained me professionally throughout the last five years! If you are looking for a source for encouragement and collaboration, start your own regional group or find one that is already going by sending out a query on the…
  28. MoreTPRS listserv. I am not that active on the listserv, and I do not read every email, but I scan every daily digest that I receive! I’ve gotten so many great ideas and insights from the folks on this network!
  29. Elizabeth Dentlinger. Elizabeth and I email back and forth often enough that we probably qualify as 21st century Pen Pals. A fellow Pinterest junkie with the desire to incorporate culture into every lesson that she teaches, I’m sure that you will love her blog as much as I do!
  30. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell. My sista from anotha mista, Sara-Elizabeth and I keep finding new things that we have in common. Her blog was the very first language teacher blog that I followed after I began teaching full-time…which means that it has been around for awhile! Don’t visit it for the first time unless you are free from commitments for the next…oh…60 hours.

There you have it!! I could go on forever, I think, but these were the first 30 that came to my mind on this particular day. Hope you found something new to add to your list of favorite TPRS®/CI things!!

Back to School Boost–20 percent off!!

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Isn’t Teachers Pay Teachers the best? They felt bad for everyone that is starting school later in the year and missed the first back-to-school sale, so they are throwing a one-day Back to School boost. I’ve discounted my entire store 20 percent, and you can use the code “BOOST” to receive an additional 10 percent off from Teachers Pay Teachers. Yowza! You only have until midnight on Wednesday, August 20 to receive the discounts, so click here to start shopping…and saving!