TPRS®/CI lessons and activities on sale! Save 20 percent on April 27-28!

Leave a comment Standard
Shop the Comprehensible Classroom on 4/27 and 4/28 to save 20 percent

I keep waiting for Teachers Pay Teachers to throw a sitewide sale so that I can join in. With no sale on the horizon (to my knowledge), I’m giving up the waiting and throwing a sale of my own. If you have tried out some of my free curriculum units or activities (currently, there are 61 free products in my TpT store) and want to purchase more for next school year, take advantage of this 20 percent off sale to stock up! You can even have your school purchase the lesson plans and activities for you by completing a Purchase Order (instructions here).

Click here to view the entire store and create your wishlist!

Mafia: The TCI game of all games

Comments 19 Standard

I cannot believe that I have never blogged about this game before. I have a tendency to exaggerate, but I really don’t think that I am exaggerating when I say that this is the MOST beneficial, MOST engaging, and MOST awesome game that a TPRS®/CI teacher can play. Don’t believe me? Haters gonna hate….but I think you’ll agree when you give it a try.

The name of the game? Mafia.

It is quite likely that you have played this game in days gone by. And it is quite likely that you, like me, LOVE this game. I don’t think I have ever met someone that doesn’t love this game. When I lived in Mexico, the other interns and I would play this game for hours at night–sometimes crawling into bed just an hour or two before our alarms started ringing for 4:00am prayer. It was our favorite, favorite, favorite pastime.

If you are among those that are not familiar with this most fabulous game, allow me to illuminate.

As I said, the name of the game is Mafia. It will change your life.

Mafia is a role-play comprehensible input game in which a poor town is being tormented by the evil Mafia. The police force is working tirelessly to identify the perpetrators of the heinous crimes being committed while the local doctor does everything in his or her power to save the victims of the Mafia’s unconscionable attacks. The local news reporter is the only one safe from the Mafia, and he or she bears the burden of informing the townspeople of the Mafia’s every move.

Here’s how you play:

Click on the image to download the 21-page Spanish resource pack that includes printable directions and useful vocabulary.

Click on the image to download the 21-page Spanish resource pack that includes printable directions and useful vocabulary.

Setting up the game:

  1. Get a deck of cards. Set aside the Aces, Kings, and Queens.
  2. Set up the game cards based on number of players. You will want to play with your entire class, even if it’s a big class, and it is not very fun to play this game with fewer than 10 students. In a class of up to 12 students (aka: in fairytale land!), you will need 2-Aces, 2-Kings, 1-Q, and enough additional cards for each remaining student to receive 1 (I find it’s easiest if you only distribute number cards–not face cards–so that there is less potential for confusion from students). So in a class of 12 students, you would need 7 number cards because you have 5 key role cards (5+7=12 total). For 13-18 students, use 3-Aces, 2-Kings, and 1-Q; in a class of 19-23 students, use 3-Aces, 3-Kings, and 1-Q. For 24+ students, you will need 4-Aces, 4-Kings, and 2-Q.
  3. On the board, write the role key (or use the poster that I use–it’s included in the game pack that you can download here-if you want it in a language other than Spanish, just email me the translations and I’ll format it) : Ace = Mafia, King = Police, Queen = Doctor, All other cards = Townspeople. In Spanish, I prefer to use the vocabulary “Mafia”, “Policía”, “Médico”, and “Pueblo”, because 3/4 of those terms are singular even when referring to a group, so it’s easier to be grammatically correct without revealing how many members remain in each group at any given time (more on that later). In the past, I have created my own deck of cards (using index cards and clipart) for special “themed” games: for example, for Semana Santa I made the townspeople “Penitentes”, the Mafia was “El diablo”, the doctor was “El sacerdote”, and the police were still the police. You could change the roles to match a novel that you are reading. For example, if you’re reading “Esperanza“, which is about immigration, you could use coyotes, immigrants, border patrol agents, and case workers. If you’re reading “Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha“, which is about gangs, you could use “La pandilla” instead of “La mafia” and “Detective” instead of “Policía”. If you play the game often, it is a good idea to change up the vocabulary so that students are learning different sets of vocab throughout the year.
  4. Determine who will be the narrator, or news reporter. The teacher will almost always play the role of the narrator; in upper level classes, you may choose to allow a student to take on this role. Just remember that if the goal is COMPREHENSIBLE INPUT (which it is!!), you need the narrator to speak correctly and comprehensibly. If you have a native speaker that is skilled in the art of speaking comprehensibly to his or her classmates, this is a great role for that student.
  5. Arrange chairs in a [giant] circle.


  • Mafia: Kill everyone in the town. Doctors and Police officers are the priority.
  • Police: Identify the mafia and convince the townspeople to convict them.
  • Doctor: Save the victims of the mafia’s attacks.
  • Townspeople: Convict the mafia members.

Playing the game: (The resource pack includes a ‘game flow’ chart to help)

  1. Shuffle the cards that you’ve selected to use for your class size.
  2. Distribute the cards to students, FACE DOWN. Remind students that it is essential that no one else know which card they were dealt. It is recommended to sit on top of your card once you’ve looked at it so that no one sees it in your hand as you hold it.
  3. The narrator tells the entire town to go to sleep. You could say this as a command if you want to practice commands; however, in the traditional game, the narrator is really just narrating the entire thing, so he or she says “The town goes to sleep” versus “Go to sleep, town!”. So the narrator says, “El pueblo se duerme”. You could also say “Everyone goes to sleep” to get in reps of different vocabulary.
  4. The town goes to sleep (all students close their eyes). You will find that students really do close their eyes because the game is much more fun when you’re not cheating.
  5. The narrator tells the mafia to wake up. “¡La mafia se despierta!
  6. The mafia opens their eyes and searches the room to identify the other mafia members by making eye contact with them. Remember, anyone that was given an “Ace” is a mafia member. The narrator makes a mental note of who is in the mafia. This is important!
  7. The narrator tells the mafia to attack. Use discretion based on your school’s policies and personal convictions for violence and role-play!! You might say “The mafia attacks its victim” or “The mafia kills someone” or “The mafia strikes”.
  8. Using eye contact and very, very, VERY subtle gesturing (pointing, nodding, etc.), the mafia members identify a victim. They must come to agreement on the one person in the class to attack; if they have an idea as to the identity of the police officers and/or doctor(s), those people should be their priority. It is essential that the mafia not make any sound so as not to give away their identity.
  9. Once a victim has been identified, the narrator tells the mafia to go to sleep. “La mafia se duerme”.
  10. The mafia closes their eyes.
  11. The narrator tells the police to wake up.
  12. The police officers open their eyes and use subtle gesturing to identify someone in the class that they think might be in the mafia. The narrator can ask questions during this time to clarify (pointing and asking “him? her?”), but he or she should be careful to not give away any identities or make hints as to how many police officers remain.
  13. Once all police officers have come to an agreement on an accusation, the narrator either confirms or denies their accusation with a nod or a head shake. Only the police officers should know whether a mafia member was correctly identified or not, so it is important that the narrator not respond to the accusation with a verbal “yes” or “no”. The police officers remember the information with which the narrator provides them.
  14. The narrator tells the police offers to go to sleep.
  15. The police officers close their eyes.
  16. The narrator tells the doctor(s) to wake up.
  17. The doctor opens his or her eyes and use subtle gesturing to identify someone to attempt to save. Again, if there are two doctors, they must silently come to an agreement.
  18. If the person that the doctor(s) attempted to save was the same person that the mafia had selected as a victim, the narrator gives the doctor(s) a thumbs up. Hooray! They saved the victim. If the person that the doctor(s) attempted to save was not the same person that the mafia had selected as a victim, the narrator gives the doctor(s) a thumbs down–they were unable to save the victim.
  19. The narrator tells the doctors to go to sleep.
  20. The narrator tells the town to wake up.
  21. Everyone opens their eyes.
  22. The narrator tells everyone what happened in the night. The narrator begins by making up a story about the mafia’s attack. This is a great time to get creative and keep it comprehensible. You can mix in a few new words, but really limit your vocabulary so that the input remains comprehensible. Build suspense by not revealing the name of the victim until you have already described the crime. After you reveal the name of the victim, say whether or not the doctor(s) were able to save the victim–but don’t reveal the identity of the doctors!
  23. The deceased victim steps out of the circle. If the victim was saved by the doctor, he or she can remain in the game. All deceased victims are “flys on the wall”: they can keep their eyes open at all times, but they must not speak. This is okay because they are still receiving input, and I think you will find that they remain engaged because the game is so fun to watch unfold.
  24. The narrator tells the town to make an accusation. The narrator might ask, “Who do you think did it?”, or “Make an accusation!”…or anything, really!
  25. The town discusses. Students can tell the truth or lie to achieve the objectives for their role that are listed toward the top of this post. The townspeople try to identify the mafia, the mafia tries to cast suspicion on others, the police officers may choose to reveal their identity if their accusation was confirmed (although the town might not believe them!), the doctor attempts to remain anonymous. The townspeople mention anything that they heard “in the night” (movements, for example, that would lead them to believe that the person sitting next to them was the mafia), and they share their thoughts and suspicions about their classmates as the game goes on, based on what people say and do. The first few discussions go very quickly, and toward the end of the game the discussions take quite a long time.
  26. Once discussion dwindles, the narrator asks if the town wants to make an accusation. A vote may be needed to determine this.
  27. If the town does not want to make an accusation (common in early rounds), skip to step 30.
  28. If the town wants to make an accusation, a vote might first be needed to determine who to accuse (only one official accusation may be made per round). Then, the narrator calls for a conviction vote.
  29. All students (including special roles because they are supposed to be secret!) vote whether or not to convict the accused. If the accused person is convicted, he or she is eliminated from the game yet still keeps his or her role a secret! That student joins the victims outside the circle as silent observers. If the accused person is not convicted, that student remains in the game; safe for now.
  30. The town goes to sleep and the process repeats. The mafia wake up, attack someone based on what was said in the last town hall meeting, the police try to identify the mafia, and the doctor attempts to save someone. As the game continues, the people with these roles will die off as they are killed by the mafia or accused by the townspeople.
  31. The game ends when (1) all mafia have been convicted or (2) it becomes impossible for the townspeople to win because there are more mafia than other living townspeople. The game can take a very, very long time if you have a large class, but don’t be afraid to suspend game play until the next time that you have spare time at the end of a class period or Preferred Activity Time (PAT)–just make sure that YOU write down who has which role and who is still alive in the game, and that no one sees the cards as you collect them from students.

Why is this game “The TCI game of all games”? 

  1. It is naturally an input-driven game. I often try to re-work classic games for comprehensible input, but this one needs nothing. With you at the helm as the narrator, you can bring in ANY vocabulary that you want: if you want to target “house” vocabulary, you can describe in which room of the victim’s home each murder occurred and which household item was used as the murder weapon. As students accuse and defend, you are the medium by which their claims travel to their classmates: “What? Sarah, you say that you are not the mafia because you are a nice person? You say that you think that Bobby is the mafia because he is Italian? Class, do you think that Bobby is the mafia because he’s Italian? Bobby, how do you respond to this accusation??”
  2. There is natural repetition of target structures: goes to sleep, wakes up, makes an accusation, etc. This vocabulary that is repeated in each round can be manipulated by the teacher to match your curriculum objectives, both in the vocabulary that is used and the tense in which you narrate.
  3. It is compelling in the truest sense of the word. Even eliminated students remain engaged–which is often a huge problem when playing game. You will find that even your least participatory students become engaged in this game because they are amused at their hyper-participant classmates’ attempts to interpret their every non-action. It is hilarious to watch unfold!
  4. It is FUN. It is SO much fun! Students use their imagination in a way that they are rarely allowed in school. A game can take a very, very long time if you have a large class–and your students will be begging you to play. Think I’m lying? Just give it a shot.

La créature: a reading for French 1

Comments 2 Standard

Merci beaucoup, Patricia Villa! Patricia emailed me the French translation of the horizontal conjugation activity that I shared a few days ago. She advised that it is a little more challenging to do the horizontal conjugation in French than in Spanish, so please model it and work through it with your students as much as needed before you unleash them to do it on their own.

  • To read about how I would use this activity in my Spanish classes, click here.
  • To download the reading in French, click here.
  • To read about how I am learning French by reading Brandon Brown veut un chien from TPRS Publishing [although I’ve not had any time lately!], click here.
  • And to see all of the activities that I have made available in French, click here.

Patricia, U R D best!

Thank you Patricia Villa for translating this into French!

Thank you Patricia Villa for translating this into French!

Teaching other verb forms – a reading for Spanish 1!

Comments 3 Standard
I need to make an FAQ page. Here is one that came through today:
…I was looking at your website and I was curious if you teach the “nosotros” or “ustedes” forms in Spanish 1. If so, is there a certain unit in which you teach it?
The answer is, “YES, absolutely!” I don’t have a specific time that I teach them, and I introduce them like I do all verb forms: naturally through pop-up grammar as they appear in story asking, and (2) strategically through horizontal conjugations. All subjects and most tense make appearances in Spanish 1 as students co-create the class stories with me, and I explain them to students and give reminders as they impact meaning. Strategically, I target all subjects of present tense verbs in Spanish 1 through horizontal conjugations. While some horizontal conjugations are built into my unit plans, most of them are extra-unit exercises based on student free writes. Like most TPRS®/CI teachers, I do free writes from time to time in my classes–it used to be every week, but quite frankly the grading was a little much for me to handle, so I trimmed it down to once every two weeks or so. Students have other writing assignments, and I can’t not read something that they write and turn in (both because it’s dishonoring to them and for legal issues–if they were to write about abuse or something like that, for example, and I didn’t read it thoroughly)…and when you have students that write as much as students in TCI classes do…well, you need a lot of time to read it. I digress…
As I was saying, I do free writes from time to time (normal free writes, 1-3-10 free writes, BINGO free writes…there are so many options!). Free writes are wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is the never-ending fount of content with which they provide you. If you want ideas for how you can use student free writes in your lesson planning, read this post. To respond to the question at hand, I type up one of their free writes every so often and project it for the class to read. We may do an activity with it; we may not. At the very least, I will circle target structures, personalize the content, check for comprehension, and do pop-up grammar as we read. [If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned strategies, click here.] After we read it, I’ll say “Hey guys, let’s do a horizontal conjugation!” I assign a subject [or tense; but that isn’t common for me in Spanish 1], I explain or remind students about what changes will need to be made for that subject (ex: if changing to the first-person singular “yo” perspective, every él changes to yo, -e’s and -a’s on the ends of verbs change to -o’s, su changes to mi, etc.). Sometimes, we do them together with me making the changes at the board; other times, students work on it individually or with partners at their seats. In that case, I model the first sentence or so, then set the students to work. I monitor the students, and after a little while I model the next sentence to make sure they are on the right track. Then they work some more, and eventually I review the whole thing with them. The student whose free write was used for the activity feels warm fuzzier for having written something so wonderful as to have been included in the lesson, and the other students in the class are happy to have a break from my thoughts.
I have never sat down and strategically planned when to target each subject with horizontal conjugations, but I do it often enough and early enough for me to hit each of them before I start giving verb notes…which I do give, even though it is typically frowned upon by TPRS®/CI masters. I give formal -AR verb conjugation notes after I’ve done at least one horizontal conjugation with each subject and all subjects have appeared in PQA, story asking, Movie Talks, Embedded Readings, and other forms of Comprehensible Input. All grammar notes that I give consist of a VERY short grammatical explanation followed by a reading that contains targeted instances of the topic at hand. In my experience, if the grammar-speak is BRIEF, it is not detrimental/overwhelming to students, and it allows my students to at least see a verb chart before they go on to other teachers in upper levels. Then, we quickly get back to comprehensible input with the targeted reading and activities. I digress again…
SO all that to say that, while I don’t have an exact plan for when I do horizontal conjugations of each subject, I realize that it would be helpful and even beneficial to teachers that are still trying to figure this whole thing out to have a plan. And so, I give you….LA CRIATURA! A short reading that could be used after Unit 6, ¡Siéntate!, of my Spanish 1 curriculum map to target the nosotros verb forms. The file contains a PPT of the reading and a student worksheet, along with instructions that walk you through completing it in class. I’ll add more suggested horizontal conjugations to the curriculum map as i have time to create them.
Click on the image to download the reading and activity.

Click on the image to download the reading and activity.

If anyone wants to translate this into another language…go for it! Just please send the translation to me via email so that I can share it with other teachers on this blog. Also keep in mind that you don’t have to use this reading for a horizontal conjugation–you can use it in any way that you see fit. Or you could use it as a horizontal conjugation for a different tense or perspective…do what you want, it’s yours!

A simple story for beginning language students

Comments 6 Standard
Always greet students at the door!

Always greet students at the door!

For the second year in a row, I participated in a local “Kids 2 College” program. It’s a day when local 5th graders visit the community college and take college classes so that they can see what college is like. The funny thing is that I teach the Spanish classes, and I am not the Spanish professor at the college. I think they’ll be in for a rude awakening in 8 years!!

If you want to see the lesson that I taught last year, click here. This year, I switched it up a bit. I don’t like to teach “wants” and “has” at the same time because the structures sound similar and are easily confused. Instead, I smushed together the first two units that I teach to my Spanish 1 students, “Dice” and “Camina o corre”. It went over well, but I decided later that I should have left out the words “boy” and “girl” in order to further limit the vocabulary. I trimmed out those words from the resources that I am sharing in this post because I think that this single lesson will be more successful without them.

Here’s what I did:

  1. Teach a few basic “rules” of story asking: I taught students to keep their eyes on me, listen to understand, how I would get their attention, how to respond to new information, and how to let me know when they don’t understand.
  2. Introduce target structures: I wrote each word on the board (well, I projected them actually) in black and blue (black for Spanish, blue for English) and said the Spanish aloud while pointing to the English, and I showed the students a gesture for each structure that they mimicked. The structures were “this is”, “walks”, “sees”, and “says”. I used “walks” instead of “goes” because in Spanish the two words are very similar (“va” and “ve”) and students mix them up easily if they are introduced in the same story.

    I started by introducing the structures to students. I later decided that I shouldn't have taught "boy" and "girl" today; instead, I should have just used names. Too much vocab for one lesson!

    I started by introducing the structures to students. I later decided that I shouldn’t have taught “boy” and “girl” today; instead, I should have just used names. Too much vocab for one lesson! I later changed the slideshow to reflect what I should have done.

  3. Storyask: I used this script (I’ve shortened it since I decided that I should have left out boy/girl): This is BobbyBobby is intelligent.  This is MaryMary is athleticBobby walks to Mat-Su CollegeMary walks to Mat-Su CollegeBobby sees MaryMary doesn’t see BobbyMary sees a moose. Mary says, “Bobby, a moose!” Bobby sees the mooseBobby says, “Hi moose” and walks with the moose to Mat-Su College. If you want to know how to use a story script for story asking, please click here
    There's always one...this kid had a hilarious response every time that I "fished for a detail" during story asking

    There’s always one…this kid had a hilarious response every time that I “fished for a detail” during story asking

    Using gestures is a great way to support comprehension--just make sure that you establish meaning FIRST! And...a cognate isn't a cognate unless you can read it: write your cognates on the board, because an untrained ear can't hear the connection between L1 and L2. In this case, I used the cognate "atlético".

    Using gestures is a great way to support comprehension–just make sure that you establish meaning FIRST! And…a cognate isn’t a cognate unless you can read it: write your cognates on the board, because an untrained ear can’t hear the connection between L1 and L2. In this case, I used the cognate “atlético”.

    I had some great actors--the boy on the far right would have won a cheese award if this had been my real class!

    I had some great actors–the boy on the far right would have won a cheese award if this had been my real class! Several students chose to “tap out” of acting once they got to the front and realized what was expected of them. If a student looks like he or she is hating it, give ’em an “out”! I whisper “Do you want to switch out with someone else?” in their ear if they seem uncomfortable.

  4. Reading: I projected the reading, “El secreto de Ramón” slide by slide. I read each slide in Spanish aloud, then I pointed to each word as students gave the English translation. I pointed to the words in the order in which it makes sense to read them in English, even though I pointed to them out of order in Spanish. For example, in the sentence “es una chica inteligente”, I would point to “es / una / inteligente / chica” so that it makes sense to the students and so that students learn that it’s okay to re-arrange the words in your head as you are trying to understand a text. As we read, I asked circling and personalizing questions, and I checked for comprehension. If you are unfamiliar with these three key TPRS®/CI strategies, please click here to learn about them.

    I also left my handy dandy laser pointer at home, rats! It makes choral reading and translation so much easier because I am not tied to the board!

    I also left my handy dandy laser pointer at home, rats! It makes choral reading and translation so much easier because I am not tied to the board!

  5. DSC_0430Sentence Flyswatter: I just read about this on Keith Toda’s blog, and he learned the activity from Jason Fritze (of course–I think all great activities can be traced back to Jason!). Of course, in the rush of getting out of the house with the kids to drop them off with a sitter while I was gone, I forgot my flyswatters! I had to make do with these ruler-and-cardstock stand-ins. I just took the pictures from each slide of the reading, put four on each screen, and then described one in Spanish. Representatives from 2 teams had to race to the board to “swat” the picture that I described.
  6. Running Dictation: I did the basic form of the dictation (without this illustration extension that I love). 

All in all, a super fun day that left me feeling exhausted and without a voice. If you want to try out story asking for the first time or are looking for a super simple review story for your beginning Spanish students, you can download the slideshow reading and game resources that I used by clicking here.

I sent the kids home with a printout of the reading. Click on the image to download the slideshow, games, and reading printout!

I sent the kids home with a printout of the reading. Click on the image to download the slideshow, games, and reading printout!

Win a FREE registration to iFLT 2015!

Leave a comment Standard

Whether you are still unsure what the acronyms TPRS® and CI stand for or you have self-identified as a TPRS®/CI teacher for years, iFLT and NTPRS are two conferences that you don’t want to miss. Both take place in July: NTPRS is in Washington, D.C., and iFLT is in St. Paul, MN.

As promised, I am giving away a FREE registration to this summer’s iFLT because The Comprehensible Classroom reached 1000 “Likes” on Facebook. Valued at $389, the winner will still be responsible for his or her own transportation and lodging. Click here to read the instructions for entering (they are in the top post on the Page). I only ask that you don’t enter if your school is willing to fund all or part of your trip with Professional Development monies.

You have until Sunday night to enter!!

Call and Response Signals

Comments 17 Standard

Thank you to everyone on Twitter, Facebook, and email that helped me to compile this list! I shared it at a workshop that I gave in sunny Southern CA on Saturday, and I hope that all of y’all will get lots of use out of it! I traditionally get my students’ attention with this Call and Response sequence:

Teacher: “A-B-C”

Students: “CH-CH-CH”

Teacher: “Español”

Students: “¡Olé!”

…at which point my students are looking at me with closed mouths and pleading eyes, waiting with great anticipation to hear the next word that will leave my lips. Well, at least that is what they are supposed to be doing.

I love to keep class exciting by switching up the call and response signal that we use, although I must admit that it is not easy for me since I am a creature of habit. I introduce a new call and response signal, and then I inevitably revert back to the old standard. Ann Collard, who I met last summer at iFLT and saw again on Saturday, said that she keeps her call and response signals straight by posting them on a wall of her room. That way, she and her students which one they are currently using. Brilliant!

Please share other Call and Response Signals that you have used in the comments, especially if they are in languages other than Spanish! My favorite signals are those of an authentic nature: whether they present a custom to students (like the one from @grantboulanger about the three different wishes for a series of three sneezes), a common colloquial expression, an idiom, or even a line from a song or poem; forming your call and response signals from authentic language is an easy way to help your students enter into the target culture. At the elementary level especially, it is also a good idea to attach a physical response of some sort to the students’ oral response. This also helps at the middle/high school level as students might not be listening to you and/or their classmates, but perhaps the physical movement will catch their eye and cause them to join in the attention-getting.

Beyond the ones that I’ve included here, there are many on this post at Spanish Playground, in this google doc by Laura Masci (with fun graphics!), and Michael Miller is the KING of Call and Response Signals (his are not language-specific, though, so I will have to include them on a future not-Spanish-specific chart). Anyway, call and respond away!

Call and response signals