Sentence BINGO ~ Fiesta Fatal Review

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Oh, if only there were more hours in the day! I have so many posts that I need to write about the sessions that I attended at CSCTFL15 last week. I’ll add them as I find time over the next few months!

This CSCTFL15 share is another one from Mira Canion‘s presentation on Deepening Reading Comprehension One Drop at a Time. Click here to read a post sharing a different idea from the same presentation. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know that I love to [try to] find ways to legitimize classic language class games. See these posts to read what I’ve come up with:

So Mira shared a way that she uses to justify playing BINGO in her classes: sentence BINGO! (Elizabeth Dentlinger has already posted on this same idea from Mira’s session, so I apologize if you are reading this for the second time.) Instead of calling out isolated words, call out complete sentences that contextualize the structures that you are targeting. In Mira’s example from the session, she started with a clothing bingo game that had images of various articles of clothing on each of the BINGO squares on the student boards. To turn the images into sentences, she drew in price tags with different values on each article of clothing. Instead of calling out “pantalones” (pants), she called out, “Compraste los pantalones que costaban cuarenta y cinco dólares” (You bought the pants that cost $45.00.) I love this particular example because it also provides repetitions of numbers above 10!

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 5.11.09 PMI loved this idea so much that I asked Mira if she wouldn’t mind me re-creating and posting a clothing BINGO game so that my readers could see an actual example of the activity. Instead, she suggested that I make a Sentence BINGO set for her most recently published novel, Fiesta Fatal. How could I refuse?! I have already posted one activity for Fiesta Fatal, and many readers have asked if I have any more because the Teacher’s Manual is not yet published. Mira shared some copyrighted illustrations with me in order to create the BINGO set, so I am so excited that I am able to share this activity for FREE with my readers as they wait for the Teacher’s Manual. It contains 48 event cards and 35 unique BINGO boards.

Click here to download Fiesta Fatal BINGO!, and enjoy!!

Summer Conference Giveaway

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As a teacher, there is no substitute for excellent training–used in the same sense of “physical training”. We train our bodies to reach physical goals (or maybe we just dream of it…) by working hard day in and day out. Excellent teacher training is no different. I don’t believe that you can experience results by sitting back as someone tells you how to be a great teacher. To be a great teacher, you need to train hard. Training matters.

This July, there are two excellent training opportunities for language teachers, and attendees will train hard at both of them. The first is iFLT (International Forum on Language Teaching), which will take place in St. Paul, Minnesota from July 14-17. The second is NTPRS, which will take place in Reston, Virginia (outside D.C.) from July 20-24. I will be at both conferences, and I’d love to see you there! Take the time NOW to seek Professional Development funds from your school to reduce the out-of-pocket cost to attend. If you do not have PD funds available, start saving! I am confident that the investment in high-quality training will not only result in greater language acquisition for your students, but for less stress and more professional enjoyment and camaraderie for you. That’s a big promise–and I can make it because I speak from personal experience.

I believe in it so much that I am going to give away a registration to iFLT15. This blog is approaching 5000 subscribers, and the Facebook page is approaching 1000 “Likes”. When we reach those milestones, I will announce how you can enter to win a FREE iFLT15 registration if you do not have PD funds available at your school! In the meantime…make sure you are subscribed to this blog (click “Sign me up!” in the sidebar) and following us on Facebook (click here), and share the page with your language teacher friends!

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What’s the best way to purchase all of your curriculum units?

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I keep getting asked why I don’t sell all of my units for any given level in a bundle on TpT so that it would be easier to find and purchase them. Here are some reasons:

  1. My curriculum is not complete. I have almost everything that I taught in Spanish 1 on TpT, but some things that I created and used are not posted yet, and I used a lot of materials from TPRS Publishing (novels, stories from their curricula, etc.).
  2. I’m still updating and adding files, and until everything is updated and present, it is just too time consuming to update a bulk file every time that I make a change to an individual file.
  3. Different teachers want different things. Some teachers want to purchase ALL the supplemental units and reading-based grammar notes for a level, while other teachers just want the main units.

I will probably create a bulk file someday, but today is not that day. In the meantime, here are two suggestions to make it easier for you to easily find and purchase everything that you want:

Purchase TpT products with a Purchase Order from your school!

Use Custom Categories to view a curriculum collection

  • TpT allows Sellers to create custom categories for their products, and I have been working on going back through everything that I have on TpT to categorize it in a way that will be most useful to my buyers.
  • If you’d like to order my Spanish I Curriculum, for example, click on the Custom Category “Spanish I Curriculum”. You can then click on each item and add it to your cart, or you can pick and choose which one you’d like.
  • If you only want the actual units for any given level, sort the products alphabetically once you’re viewing a Custom Category. Then, scroll down until you see “Spanish 1 Unit….” or “Spanish 2 Unit…” (depending on which level you are viewing). Add only those units to your cart, and skip the supplemental readings and grammar notes.

Click here to visit my TpT store now!

Use Custom Categories to find products more efficiently

Use Custom Categories to find products more efficiently

Sort products alphabetically to quickly locate the products you want within a custom category

Sort products alphabetically to quickly locate the products you want within a custom category

Comprehensify your textbook readings!

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As an Alaskan, PNCFL is my ‘home’ region, but with Minneapolis just a six-hour direct flight from Anchorage, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend this year’s CSCTFL conference. Paired with a day spent observing Susan Block Johnson and an afternoon QAR session, it was the perfect way to spend this past week. I spent a lot of time at TPRS Publishing’s exhibitor booth (and met many of you there!), so I didn’t attend many sessions. Don’t worry, though—the five sessions that I attended will give you plenty of reading material over the next few days as I find time to gather my notes. And so, I give you The Central States Digest: Volume 1, Issue 1:


Presenter: Mira Canion

Activity: Character Dialogue

Mira has five tips for preparing students to read any portion of textbook dialogue.  Slide © 2015 Mira Canion

Mira has five tips for preparing students to read any portion of textbook dialogue.
Slide © 2015 Mira Canion

Textbooks are great at including [doofy] dialogues, aren’t they? We want our students to see how the target structures would be used in real conversation, and we want them to see varied verb forms. What better way than to write out dialogues with contrived usage of as many of the words from the chapter as possible?!

Well, I’m sure that you will agree that those dialogues are neither natural nor comprehensible [effortless to understand] for most students. But can they be made comprehensible? Can they be made natural? Can they be made compelling? Mira showed us that yes, they can!

First, show only the first few lines of a dialogue to students. Since they are so packed full of new words, you want to separate them out so as to be able to prepare students for success in comprehension. Instead of 18 lines, show them 3 or 4.

Mira works with a small section of dialogue at a time. Don't tackle the whole thing at once! Slide © 2015 Mira Canion

Mira works with a small section of dialogue at a time. Don’t tackle the whole thing at once! Slide © 2015 Mira Canion

My favorite “twist” that Mira uses in her classes is to change the names of the people having the conversation. We all know that the conversation is invented, so why not have fun with it? Mira showed several examples of dialogues in which she changed the two parties in the conversation to Shrek and Fiona, Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana, or Peeta and Katniss. Mira was so purposeful in her character selection that she chose them based on what they wear in common depictions: for example, Shrek wears a loose-fitting shirt and a vest, and Puss in Boots wears…boots! So when her textbook conversation was about whether or not to buy a vest, she re-named the character looking at the vest “Shrek”, and he asked Fiona about it instead of a friend. This simple switch transformed the “doofy” conversation into a “goofy” conversation, and it became interesting because we all know and like Shrek. The Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus conversation switcheroo was an obvious choice for a conversation about buying a skirt, which then turned into whether or not it was too short to purchase. This made the skirt conversation compelling because everyone has an opinion on Miley Cyrus.

Once you insert familiar characters, you are able to do all kinds of extension activities. Students’ background knowledge on the characters allows them to meaningfully do things like modifying the conversation, predicting what would happen next in the conversation, and adding to the conversation. This is fun to do when you know the people that are talking. If you don’t know the people that are talking, it’s not fun to play with their words because…well…who knows what they would say, and who cares?

Beyond manipulating the dialogue itself, Mira provided many ideas for using the dialogues as the subject of critical thinking. Some of the ways that she has done this in class is to talk through the process of sifting out details in order to find the main idea. As you re-read the dialogue with the class, ask questions in the target language like, “Is this necessary information?”, “Can we delete this and not change the conversation?” By working through it as a class, you are providing additional, comprehensible input, and you are helping students to become strategic readers as they practice the skill of metacognition. To meet some of the less-natural-to-include Common Core Standards (click here for posts on CCSS Alignment), Mira suggested asking questions like, “What effect does the author achieve by choosing Hannah as Miley’s friend?”, “What background information does the reader need to see the humor in choosing Hannah as Miley’s friend?”, etc. I love this!

We’re not done yet!!

Mira shares an output activity to use with textbook dialogue

Mira shares an output activity to use with textbook dialogue

Mira also provided many ideas for output. She has students create character webs based on the dialogue, write out comics based on the plot (extending and adding in unique details), and, my favorite, a “Blind Image Retell”. I love blind retells, which I learned about from Betsy Paskvan, and Mira’s twist is excellent. As you can see in the image, Mira begins this activity by asking students to fold a paper in half lengthwise. Then, the students re-write the dialogue on the left-hand side of the paper. On the right-hand side of the paper, they illustrate the dialogue. Then, they fold it in half again. Students then re-tell the conversation to a partner or to a friend or parent for homework as they look at the illustrations. The person to whom they are re-telling the story looks at the written dialogue and checks for accuracy. If it is a student listening to the re-tell, that student is receiving comprehensible input as they read through the text and listen critically for mistakes and deletions. Then, the roles can switch.

Once you’ve done a few of these activities with one chunk of the dialogue, move on to the next chunk and do some new ones. Students will acquire the vocabulary contained within them more deeply than ever before! I was so inspired by the session that it *almost* made me want to teach out of a textbook ;-)

If you are tied to a textbook and looking for ways to incorporate comprehensible input, please consider bringing Mira to your school for a workshop. She is particularly familiar with Realidades because she uses it (she actually plays a game where you give her a vocabulary word and she tells you which chapter and section in Realidades it is introduced…she knows it that well), but she would be able to work with you on any text. Click here to visit the “contact” page on Mira’s website!

I’ll be blogging about more other ideas from Mira’s sessions (and others), so stay tuned!

Training Matters!

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Phew! I’ve had quite the 48 hours! I arrived in Minneapolis in the wee hours of the morning today after our flight shaved 75 minutes off its scheduled flight time from Anchorage (who knew that was possible!), and with the exception of a 60-minute nap at around 9am, I am running on pura café. Ay ay ay!

I spent today with Susan Block Johnson, the Spanish teacher at Twin Cities German Immersion School. Susan and I had never met, but many of you in the TCI world know her from NTPRS or other trainings. Can I just say that I love our community!? Every time that I get off a plane to be greeted by an unknown colleague from halfway across the continent, I am amazed at how we can pick up like old friends. When we share a passion, it is so easy to connect!

Today, I had the opportunity to observe Susan’s Spanish I and Spanish IV classes and to do a couple MovieTalks before giving a QAR Workshop for the TCGIS staff after school. I have a lot of little takeaways, but my BIG takeaway is that TRAINING MATTERS. I didn’t realize how much training Susan has attended. After her Spanish I classes, I pulled her aside and asked, “Wait, so tell me about aaaaall of your TPRS®/CI training…?” Wow. It’s extensive. And it is effective. Susan is such a masterful teacher! She moved seamlessly from activity to activity, pumping her students full of comprehensible input without making any of it feel contrived or forced or unnatural. It is possible to use TPRS® and other Comprehensible Input strategies without any training–I did it for quite some time–but man, making the effort and investment in training will pay huge dividends. She warned me that her Spanish I’s were kind of a mess because they only meet every other day, and less than that really because of a list of things. Let’s just say that if I had not been warned, I would have thought that I were in a Level 2 or Level 3 classroom. The kids could understand, and the kids could talk. And they chose to talk. A lot. In Spanish!! Wow. I am so impressed.

While I can’t take all of Susan’s training and impart it to you virtually via this blog post, I can tell you what I observed. Hopefully, you will be inspired by something!


Susan used the same routine in each of her classes. Each class began with the ding of a bell, pressed by one of her students. When the rest of the class hears the bell, they hold up one hand in a fist and wait for Susan to move them forward. She then said (in the TL), “Good afternoon class”, and they responded, “Good afternoon, Mrs. Johnson”. Then she asked a series of questions, quickly, to the students, and individuals responded: What is the date? What day (of the week) is today? What is the weather like outside? Then came the coolest part….

Susan used a Hoberman Sphere for a breathing exercise at the beginning of class

Susan used a Hoberman Sphere for a breathing exercise at the beginning of class


One student (which is apparently the same student all week for one week) grabbed the Hoberman Sphere and sat in a chair at the front of the room to lead the class in a breathing exercise. Susan asked for a volunteer to count breaths, and the student with the sphere then slowly expanded and contracted the sphere five times while the counter counted repetitions. The class breathed in as the sphere expanded and out while it contracted. This very simple technique was very effective in calming students–audibly, anyway–and I felt my body relax as well. We were ready to receive whatever Susan had for us that day!  Check out the Yoga Calm website to learn more about the organization that did a training for the TCGIS staff earlier this year.


Today, I was the subject of the Personalized Questions and Answers session. Before I was introduced or spoke a word, Susan motioned to me and asked (in the TL), “What do we know about our visitor?” Their responses to this question were quite entertaining. Her youngest group of Spanish Is, 5th and 6th graders, were the most creative in answering this question. They quickly generated a long list of things that they knew about me–that I have legs/eyes/arms/etc, I’m a woman, I have blonde hair, I am in the Spanish class, etc. The older group of Spanish 1 students and the Spanish IV’s really struggled with this question because they didn’t know anything about me–at least in the traditional way that the expression is used. After the students had shared everything that they could think of, Susan asked them (in the TL), “What do you WANT to know about our visitor?” This was a fun question, especially with middle schoolers. One girl wanted to know why I’m not a knife. (I told her that it was because my parents are not knives.) Another kid said that I was really short, but he didn’t realize that I was sitting down at the time. Oh, kids! They crack me up. Finally, Susan pulled me up to the front of the room and asked me all of the questions that her students had come up with. It was a fun activity, and it was so easy to get in repetitions of her target structures (knows/wants to know) and “getting to know you” vocab. Why not schedule a mystery guest that speaks your TL just so that you can talk to them with your students?!


MovieTalk is one of the most simple strategies for providing comprehensible input, and it is a great starting place for teachers that are just beginning their TCI journey. I did the Wildebeest MovieTalk with the Spanish I classes, and I used the Mr. Bean Packs a Suitcase video with the Spanish IVs to get in repetitions of the word “fits”, upon the suggestion from Zachary Bryant (thank you!!!!). To get more repetitions of the structure, “knows”, I modified the script that I used and said (in the TL), “The Wildebeest says, “I know that it is a crocodile/log””. When you target high frequency structures with your curriculum, it is so easy to fit them into the instruction of any resource that you come across! After each MovieTalk, Susan asked the simple question, “What did you see?” As always, her question and the students’ responses were in the target language.

90 percent target language? Psh. She and her students easily hit 95. Probably higher. I can’t even recall any English that was spoken today…

One strategy that she used was just a simple question: “What did you see?” (¿Qué viste?). Students in one of the classes just volunteered answers at random, and in another class she used a “Pégame” (Hit me!) strategy: all students stood up, and they were allowed to sit down after “hitting” Susan with any phrase or sentence about the video. This was great, because it gave students the freedom to say something that was at their individual level of proficiency. Some were very basic, and others were very descriptive. Everyone had a chance to speak, and Susan was able to ask follow-up questions and circle target structures and unfamiliar vocabulary because she was guiding the conversation. By asking, “What did you see?”, she worked in many repetitions of past tense forms of the verb “to see” (I saw, you saw, s/he saw). After doing just a few MovieTalks, her students will have a good command of that verb. Comprehensible Input makes language acquisition so easy!!!


I saw the students do several different kinds of reading between the three classes that I observed. In one class, the students had done a TPRS® story in a previous lesson, and Susan provided them with a typed version of the class story. It was about 1.5 pages long, double spaced (if memory serves me well). For this activity, she had students pair up and read and translate the story with a partner. As they read and translated, they helped each other when one partner got stuck, and Susan circulated to formatively assess the students’ comprehension and clarify meaning when needed. One common concern that teachers have when considering making the switch to TPRS®/CI instruction is that it is very teacher-centered and therefore exhausting and taxing on the instructor. This very simple activity is a great example of one of the many ways that you can plan for “teacher down-time” in your instruction. Just let your kids read!! Here are some other reading activities that I’ve used in the past.

The other reading activity that I observed was…wait for it…reading. As in Free Reading. Sustained Silent Reading. Free Voluntary Reading. Whatever you want to call it. Susan told the students to go grab their books, and they went to the classroom library, each pulled out whichever novel they had been reading most recently (I saw 5-6 different novels in students’ hands), and 10 minutes or so just reading. Now, if that isn’t teacher down time, I don’t know what is! I never had a great Free Reading program set up in my classes, but I know that Bryce Hedstrom and Mike Peto and Crystal Barragán, among others, do (I just know that they’ve blogged about theirs!).


So, what I didn’t realize going into today was that I was going to be in the classroom of a celebrity. Susan has actually appeared in a Señor Wooly video–she is one of the reporters/fans in the ¡Sé chévere! video. I AM SO JEALOUS! Accordingly, I watched her use several of Señor Wooly’s videos in class. What I loved is how she was able to show a video and immediately pull from it the content and structures that she needed and transform it into comprehensible input that matched her lesson objectives. She used the “Pan” video to get in repetitions of the nosostros (we) forms of verbs, and she tied that into the interview questions about me (“What do we know? What do we want to know?”). I’m telling you, this lady is a genius!!


Susan did a TPRS® story in one of her classes. To introduce the new vocabulary, she had put together a very simple and very effective slideshow with pictures of animals, animals with tails, and tails. She discussed the pictures with students to get in repetitions of the target structures as students became accustomed to the sound of each structure, and then she jumped right into the story. She had several actors, and I had to laugh because students are students no matter where they live or what school they attend. The main character in the story was an awesome student actor, and I thought, “Wow. I wish that I could get ALL of my students to do just a great job acting!”. Well, then came the second student. She really enjoyed participating in the story, but she definitely filled the role of the “DISTRactor”. So yes, we all have one of those. She still did a great job–she was just a little bit more into being the center of the attention than furthering her classmates’ language proficiency. Go figure. Susan had lots of props ready to go (animal hats, a tail, etc.), and she made use of the entire classroom by directing each scene in its own unique location in the room. I’ve written about this idea before (don’t know where), and it really helps students when they need to recall and retell the story if they have a different physical location to associate with each event in the story.


The last activity that I want to share with you from today was the last activity that Susan did in one of her classes. She learned the idea from someone else, but y’all will have to help me recall who it was so that I can cite it, because I forget the name that she shared with me! I think she called it “Perrito caliente” (hot dog…similar to hot potato), but she couldn’t find the stuffed dog that she usually uses, so she just used a ball. After her Spanish Is finished reading their typed version of the class story, she used this great musical activity as a formative reading comprehension assessment. She turned on an energizing Spanish song and threw a ball out into the class. As the music played, students tossed the ball around. When the music stopped, the student with the ball in his or her hands had to respond to a question about the reading that Susan asked (in Spanish). After the student responded, she turned the music back on as students tossed around the ball until it came time for another question. I loved this activity, because it was an easy way to lower the affective filter during an assessment. Students get stressed about formative assessments, so anything that we can do to put them at ease and make the experience more novel and engaging will pay great dividends.

All in all, it was a great day, and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of seeking out high quality training in whatever methodology or strategy you have chosen to use in your classes. For the amount of time that we spend in our classrooms and working on school related tasks, we owe it to ourselves to be excellent. Becoming a master teacher won’t solve all of our problems–after all, we are human and so are our administrators and students and their parents–but it will go a long way to reducing the stress that comes from feeling lost and inadequate. With that in mind….why not register now for iFLT 2015 (this summer in St. Paul) or NTPRS 2015 (this summer in DC)?! I’ll be there, and I would love to see YOU!

“What’s in the box?”: The simplicity of storyasking

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I was painting with my 3yo this morning, and he asked, “Mom, what are you painting?”

IMG_0971“A box”

“What’s in the box?”

“What do you think is in the box?”

“A toy”

“What kind of a toy?”

“A toy MONSTER!”

“A toy monster! That sounds scary!”

“No, it’s not scary. It’s nice.”

This short exchange reminded me why I so love storyasking, or, in other words, collective imagining. Whether I’m working from a script or allowing students’ imaginations to take us in any direction they conceive, it is just fun to see what they come up with. My sons can spend hours living out an adventure in an imaginary world. Neither the ability nor the desire to “play pretend” vanish with puberty, although practice is sometimes required to dust them off. School is hard–LIFE is hard–for many of our students, and giving them the gift of play for 45 minutes a day is one of the greatest things that we can do for them! Imagining doesn’t mean that the stories that students create have to be silly or even unrealistic: it means that the stories have to be theirs. There is nothing quite so satisfying as that magical metacognitive moment when students realize that the story they are creating is being narrated–and they are understanding it–in the target language! Our goal as TPRS®/CI teachers is to provide comprehensible input that is so compelling that students forget that they are learning a language. It’s easy to lose sight of that with the politics of education and all of the requirements that are placed on us and imposed upon our curriculum. So why not return to your first love this week with a simple question just to see where it will take you:

“What’s in the box?” 

Sound Effects AUDITION for Read-Alouds

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Katie Sevilla just sent me an email describing an awesome twist that she made to the Sound Effects Read-Aloud activity that I described in this post. Before beginning Chapter 1 of Esperanza, she had her students audition to be the student that provided each of the sound effects during the reading! I love this idea so much! She used three sound effects: “la bebé llora”, “el teléfono suena” and “la persona misteriosa respira / respiración”.

By running the auditions in the target language, you will get loads of repetitions of the target structures even before reading the first word on the page, and your students will be rolling on the floor laughing (well, as long as you have a few dramatic kiddos among the bunch!). Thanks for sharing, Katie!