QAR en français!

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French Intro to QARThanks to Samantha Uebel, who sent me French translations for my QAR materials, all of you French teachers out there can rest easy knowing that you can pop into class tomorrow and try out QAR without having to do the grunt work of translating everything for yourselves!! Yippee!

Click here to download the materials in French, Spanish, and English. Thanks, Samantha! U R D Best!

Unfamiliar with QAR? Click here.


QAR Strategies for Differentiating Questions

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QAR image

If you attended my workshop on QAR Strategies for Differentiating Questions at iFLT this past summer or its condensed counterpart at AFLA just a few weekends ago, you will be happy to see this post! If you didn’t, I hope that you will be happy to have found it once you’ve read through it.

QAR (Question-Answer Relationships) is a strategy developed by Taffy Rafael to help students respond accurately to reading comprehension questions. (I was introduced to QAR in a reading strategies workshop by Carol Gaab in 2011.) In addition to the originally intended purpose for QAR, there are many intangible benefits to learning and using QAR in the classroom. It is wise for teachers to consider QAR when planning assessments, class activities, and discussions!

I introduce QAR to my students in Unit 12 of Spanish 1; toward the beginning of the second quarter (click here to see my Spanish 1 curriculum map). I begin by having them write questions in the target language based on the class story in that unit (the story is about a kleptomaniac). Then, I work through a Keynote presentation with them that provides them with an overview of each QAR type in English and a sample text and questions in Spanish. The presentation that I use is included in this QAR resource pack (it’s free, of course!). Once they’ve learned the four QAR types, we go back and categorize each of the 10 questions that they wrote about the story and discuss the answers. Finally, I provide them with a new text and ask them to write questions for each of the four QAR types, and then they share and discuss them with the class.

Once students have learned QAR, I use them regularly in my classes so that students keep them at the forefront of their minds! Almost any activity can be adapted to explicitly practice QAR, and here are four that I have used in the past and a brief explanation of how to use them to explicitly practice QAR:

  • Communicative QAR (students must write one question of each QAR type to ask to classmates)
  • Grab and Go (adapted from Jason Fritze; shared with me by Michele Whaley–students must cycle through the QAR types as they write their questions)
  • Jeopardy Q&A (students must develop questions of a specific QAR type that elicit the answer provided)
  • Story Fan N Pick (Have students write questions for each QAR type, then compile their questions to create a set of 12 questions to use in groups)

Again, click here to access the QAR resource pack that I use to introduce QAR to my students.

If you are interested in learning more about QAR and how to use it in the classroom, contact me via email ( to schedule a workshop or webinar.

All content © 2011-2014 The Comprehensible Classroom. It is intended for classroom use only. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written consent from Martina Bex is strictly prohibited. It is strictly prohibited to use this content in a presentation without express and written consent from Martina Bex. Please contact her at with any questions.


Global Competency: Refining Hypotheses

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We had a great Alaskans for Language Acquisition (AFLA) conference last weekend in Seward! The only bummer was that Cynthia Hitz didn’t join us this year :( Michele (the Alaska Language Teacher of the Year!) has already blogged about it, and you can read her post here. I have found it nearly impossible to carve out computer time while we settle into life with three kiddos…but I’ve been THINKING about blogging a lot!!

Our Keynote speakers this year were Bryce Hedstrom and Paul Sandrock. If you have been around the TPRS®/TCI world for awhile, you will definitely recognize Bryce’s name. I have many wonderful things to say about Bryce, but they will wait for another post. Today, I want to write about Paul Sandrock. ‘

If you are active in ACTFL and read their publications, watch their webinars, or attend their conferences, you have probably seen Paul’s name before. A former Spanish teacher, he is now a figurehead for our national organization and serves on the board of directors. What you may not know about Paul is that he is a truly delightful human being! I was impressed on numerous occasions throughout the weekend with his kindness, humility, and adaptability as he suffered through more than a few technical and logistical snafus…and even helped us to survive them with tools from his incredible tech-emergency-preparedness kit! And in a kind and patient manner! What a nice man.

Not only was Paul a nice man, but he is a nice man with a wealth of knowledge! While I was unable to attend all of Paul’s sessions because I was either presenting myself or had a 10-day-old in tow that liked to start crying as soon as I entered the room, the few snippets that I was able to catch were enough to give me a whole list of ideas for activities, lesson plans, and blog posts.

The first of his presentations that I was able to attend was on Global Competency. Paul defined Global Competency as knowing “how, when, and why to say what to whom”. Teaching culture to my students through comprehensible, compelling input is my passion! My takeaway from this session was to challenge myself to find ways to build global competency with each of my cultural units. Instead of settling for learning about a cultural practice, product, or perspective, I want to apply that knowledge and examine what it teaches us about global competency–how that practice, product, or perspective informs how, when, and why we should say what to whom in the target culture. Sandrock explained that as students investigate the world, they must recognize that their own culture influences their perceptions of other cultures’ products, practices, and perspectives. Taking those perceptions into account, they must learn to communicate effectively with people from diverse cultures and possibly take action to understand and act on issues of global importance.

Since that’s a little hard to follow, let me give you a small example–in one of my units, my students learn the target structures lives aloneworks, and needs, and then we use those structures to learn about the Argentinian gaucho. Students read a quick description of the gaucho, in Spanish, and then they learn more about it through several videos, songs, and other activities. At some point, we compare the gaucho to the American cowboy; discussing similarities and differences. However, global competency is not targeted in the unit [yet]. We learn about the gaucho, and we learn about a similar aspect of our culture, but we don’t explore how our understanding of the American cowboy might affect our understanding of the Argentinian gaucho and, even further, how that [mis]understanding might affect our communication with an Argentinian. So…how do we go about that exploration?

This train of thought led me back to my methods class, when I was still a wee baby of a Spanish teacher, and a lesson on hypothesis refinement. Hypothesis refinement is a process that students can use to identify and analyze their perceptions on the products, practices, and perspectives of other cultures, then synthesize those perceptions with new information about the topic at hand to form new, modified perceptions. Since discovering comprehensible input, my appreciation for hypothesis refinement has grown because there the process provides many opportunities for comprehensible input and comprehensible output. While quite a few educators and researchers have written about hypothesis refinement as a way to study culture, I am particularly fond of the work of Crawford-Lange and Lange because of the connection that they made between language learning and cultural learning. Their process for hypothesis refinement consists of seven steps, and I have changed the seventh step slightly and added an additional, eighth step:

Hypothesis refinement

When I wrote my sample hypothesis refinement lesson plan in my methods course, I based it on the penitentes of Semana Santa. It was an obvious sample lesson because of the similarity of their wardrobe with that of the KKK. However, I’ve since realized that a hypothesis refinement lesson need not focus on a misperception; the process can be applied to any cultural product, practice, or perspective, even when its significance seems obvious. Our own culture influences the way that we view everything in a target culture, and it is wise to examine even the most subtle of its influences.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a great website to find topics for hypothesis refinement today! OFLA shared a link from Larry Ferlazzo on its Facebook page. The Ferlazzo article shared a really neat website called “Fasten Seat Belts“, in which students can click on a country and read short articles that describe cultural practices in that country that might differ from the cultural norms in their own country of origin. The website even has an app, which would make it perfect for use in BYOD classes! The articles are written in English, but the vocabulary is fairly simple, so students could most likely transfer the information into the target language without much difficulty.

But how to ensure that this process provides comprehensible input and opportunities for comprehensible output? Here are some strategies:

  • Discuss the students’ initial perceptions as a class. This allows the teacher to guide the discussion. The teacher can use circumlocutions, provide translations, clarify, and circle key structures during the discussion so that students are well prepared to state their perceptions using opinion statements.
  • The teacher provides information about the concept at hand. This can be through the creation of comprehensible readings or the scaffolding of authentic resources on the topic. Either way, the teacher helps present the topic to the students using comprehensible language.
  • The teacher leads a class discussion that critically analyzes the information. The teacher must formulate comprehensible questions to ask the students and then gather and discuss responses from students. The students can discuss the questions and share their responses using cooperative learning structures (such as fan n pick) either before or after the teacher-led discussion so that they can practice output, but it is important that the teacher guide the discussion at some point so as to provide comprehensible INput, which builds TL proficiency.
  • Students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to identify related products, perspectives, and practices in their own culture (output), and then they share them with the class so that the teacher can guide the discussion (input).
  • Students formulate their own ideas about how the changed perception should affect how, when, and why they say what to whom in the target culture. They can share these ideas in a formal assessment (writing or speaking), informally with a partner or in small groups (consider using the Team Windows structure, then doing a gallery walk), or with the class in a  teacher-guided discussion.

What are some cultural practices, products, or perspectives that you’d like to give your students an opportunity to explore using the hypothesis refinement process? And what are some other strategies that you use to build global competency in your students?

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!”