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Earth Day 2018

A few points of departure for discussion in class today:

(1) Start with this maravilla about the Ka’apor people who live in the Amazon. Una maravilla is a marvelous thing, and so that is how I refer to this series which I use to introduce the people and cultures of Latin America to my students. The Ka’apor people struggle to prevent deforestation from destroying their way of life. This download contains a picture talk, a subtitled video, a short highly comprehensible reading followed by space for a Write & Discuss activity. This should be able to be completed within 15-20 minutes.

(2) Ska de la Tierra (song)

(a) we did NOT listen first, we just looked at the lyrics and translated/discussed with the audio off. While the song goes fast, this first look at the lyrics is pretty easy.

zoom(b) This matching game is Spanish audio to Spanish text so that students get to hear her voice before actually viewing the video. After matching I chose a student to translate all of the lyrics. We do this several times to acquaint ourselves further with the song.

(c) We watch this version of the video, which has excellent images matching the principal lyrics.

(3) Video “Man”. A bit disturbing, but really gets to the idea that we should be thoughtful about how we use natural resources.

Now let´s focus on why we love the natural world:
(4) Los 30 lugares más bonitos del mundo
We sat in quiet awe as we watched this video.

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Anyone want to take this French class with me?!

Are you a Spanish teacher like me who wishes they could sit in and observe an advanced French class?Although it says “advanced”, I personally have taken that as aspiration rather than description. Each class is a discussion of an AP-theme reading that we read before class. Take a look, there are currently only 5 people signed up and we need 6.

Advanced French for French Teachers (and other advanced speakers of French) – Online!

Do you wish you had more French-teacher colleagues? Do you feel like your French is stagnating because you only talk with your students? Join us for this 6-session Advanced French class taught by Anna Gilcher, PhD.

Anna is a well-known national presenter and trainer on teaching with comprehensible input and creating diversity-positive classrooms. Learn more about her at

**Inscrivez-vous ici**

Prix: $216/personne pour la série (payable par Venmo, Google Pay, ou Paypal – ou payable par chèque)

Places disponibles: 20 (minimum 6)

Dates (jeudi 16h30-17h30 EDT)
le 22 mars
le 5 avril
le 12 avril
le 29 avril
le 3 mai
le 10 mai*
*si tout le monde est disponible le 29 mars, on se verra le 29 mars au lieu de se rencontrer le 10 mai

J’enverrai chaque semaine (le lundi avant le cours) le texte dont on discutera.
Voici les thèmes pour les séances (les thèmes viennent du cours AP):
séance 1: La famille et la communauté
séance 2: La science et la technologie
séance 3: L’esthétique
séance 4: La vie contemporaine
séance 5: Les défis mondiaux
séance 6: La quête de soi


Anna Gilcher, PhD
Co-Director, Elevate Education Consulting
Your brain can learn French & Spanish!
French/Spanish lessons for all ages and brains

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Write & Discuss example

As I was preparing a video session for Scott Benedict’s online conference I looked through some old class footage to see if I could caption a good example of a typical Write & Discuss (W & D) session. This is the activity that I recommend any CI teacher end their class with, regardless of what was being done in class. It is surprising to me that many CI teachers do not end their classes with a quick W & D… whether you have spent the class interviewing a student, chatting about the weekend or even watching youtube videos, W & D is an excellent way to get one last repetition of the input by summarizing the class period and getting that information into their notebooks. The W & D texts are a great answer when parents ask what their children are supposed to study for midterm or final exams.

To be clear, W & D is a short end of class routine that lasts from 5 to 10 minutes. Here is a typical 55 minute lesson that I might have planned (or just performed off the cuff):

The following example of Write & Discuss came after creating a class story like in the first lesson plan, but it could have easily focused on the chat about after school plans, or both. Here is the video:

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Ode to Annabelle Allen

A day with Annabelle Allen, 2018 Louisiana Foreign language Teacher of the Year

Most people know Annabelle “la maestra loca” Allen for her incredible charisma, high-energy and, of course, her signature brain breaks. Today I spent the day with forty other lucky teachers and Annabelle at East Wake Academy in North Carolina. One thing that struck me as I followed her presentation is that Annabelle Allen is much more than brain breaks. I often hear people say that they could not reproduce Annabelle’s kind of high-energy performance in class, but sifting past what I cannot imitate left me with the characteristic of great teachers that I must be able to channel if I want to be effective: Annabelle is incredibly mindful of her students. It can be hard not to get swept up in the absolute hurricane that is her personality, but it would be a mistake to believe that her performance is on a stage untouched and unaware of her audience. How many times have I taught with a sort of tunnel vision, not truly taking the time to look deeply into the eyes of my students?!

Annabelle reminded me today of another hero of mine who has the uncanny ability to calmly, lovingly remember each student’s contribution to a class story and consistently honors that student by gently gesturing in her direction whenever that contribution is recalled in class. If you have ever sat in a class taught by Ben Slavic, you know how special you feel when he says your detail a day later during a retell, then pauses, gently raising his hand palm up in your direction, pausing still to make eye contact with you and for a second nods slightly with a grateful smile as if to say, “yes, blue, you saved our story with that wonderful idea of yours, of course our character is blue“. The difference between Ben’s slow, pondering approach and Annabelle’s frenetic energy could not be greater on a superficial level, yet they are undoubtedly related.

I have heard people suggest that when you observe another CI teacher you should take notes on how they made themselves comprehensible. It is a technique that helps the viewer maintain some distance so that, instead of being entranced by the lesson, the observer can actively observe the mechanics of a good CI teacher. If you have the chance to observe Annabelle, however, consider making a list of how she makes each student feel valued and loved. Some of her techniques, like the crayons of many different colors technique, she will openly articulate… while others are worth holding yourself slightly outside of the tornado of her lesson with the hope of getting a glimpse at how thoroughly she observes the students in her midst.

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My Perfect Year: A Practical Guide for Language Teachers

I have just published the book that accompanies the workshop that I am giving this Spring. If you are attending a workshop then you will get a free copy, but if you cannot make it the book is currently on sale. Purchased from my website it is 20% off.

This guide is more than a collection of effective activities for any language classroom; it succinctly describes my entire approach that I use all year long in levels one through three. Starting with routines and class space, I describe how to design an effective classroom environment for language acquisition. I cover my approach to essential activities that provide personalized, imaginative and comprehensible language throughout the year. Also learn how to develop and maintain a classroom library for any language, with special attention to providing lower level texts for absolute beginners. Since an independent reading program is a core element to my approach, I describe a multi-year plan to build your reading program including ideas outlining how to transition from no reading program and reading activities that support independent readers. Special attention is dedicated to the use of authentic videos in a comprehensible classroom. Learn to expand a sixty second video into a language-rich fifty-five minute lesson plan. This guide also outlines an essential technique for the health and well-being of all teachers: how to organize a “substitute day while you are still in class” for those days when you need a rest but want your students to continue acquiring language. Remain refreshed and fascinated with the target cultures where the language you teach is spoken so that you can provide imaginative, compelling lessons to your students! This guide closes with advice on how to lead a department in transition from traditional methods to comprehensible input methods in a way that respects the professional judgement of all educators in your department.

Click here to purchase the book.

Mike Peto is a Spanish teacher who led his department to transition to proficiency-based methods of language acquisition and, with the collaboration of his team, they enjoy a 100% pass rate on AP and IB exams. Known for his blog documenting his teaching, My Generation of Polyglots, Mike is also the editor of a collection of essays for teachers of heritage learners of Spanish, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners, and the author of several novels for language learners. He has given workshops on language acquisition around the world and is a well-known presenter at national and regional conventions for language teachers. His essays have been included in seminal publications on comprehensible input methods such as Fluency Through Reading and Storytelling (7th edition) by Blaine Ray and Contee Seeley and A Natural Approach to the Year by Tina Hargaden and Ben Slavic. Mike is also a founding member of The CI Posse.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Angie Dodd is hosting me on Saturday, March 17th at her school in Brattleboro, Vermont. “My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

This workshop is currently halfway to sold out. Register here.

I also have some time available the following week (March 20-24) if you are interested in hosting me on the eastern side of the state in either Massachusetts or Connecticut.

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Energize your teaching for the Spring semester with a workshop with Mike

Portland, Oregon – TWO WORKSHOPS (Choose the one that is most convenient for you)- Monday Feb 12 at Westside Christian High School in Tigard, Oregon and also Friday February 16 at Oregon City School District’s District Admin Office, 1417 12th Street, Oregon City.

“My Perfect Year Demo Day” is a full day demonstration of fundamental comprehensible input activities that make up a perfect year. Highly adaptable to beginners through advanced students, this demo day includes easy CI routines for raw beginners, working with student created images, class management techniques for a safe & creative classroom, co-creating narrative vignettes with your students, visual storytelling, Mike’s unique comprehensible music activities, book talk activities and tips for making the best of your classroom library, demo of movie talk & using telenovelas as anchor texts in both beginner and advanced classes.

Participants that sign up by February 5th receive a free copy of Mike’s book, Activities for a Perfect Year. Early discount available now.

Register for Monday workshop in Tigard by clicking here.
Register for Friday workshop in Oregon City by clicking HERE.

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Sometimes students long for something real

Working with student-created images does not have to be frivolous

I was looking through some of my favorite One Word Images that my students created in 2017 and I came across the story of Coco, the tale of a transgender piece of paper born with all of the biological parts of un papel but self-identifying as “una hoja” de papel. I made this with a Spanish 3 class.

I did not walk into class that day with the intention of creating a heavy story. I did sense that students were not in the mood for another crazy adventure with wacky details and a nonsensical plot. Sometimes they like that; when they take ownership of such a story there is no better use of class time than following that crazy story. But when students get burned out on stories, sometimes what they really want is to talk about something real.

The trick to eliciting these kinds of stories is to zealously protect a classroom culture of trust. Adolescents constantly monitor social boundaries. When a student makes an off-color remark, every adolescent in the room is watching to see what is permitted by the teacher. When a student makes a racist or homophobic comment, a stern but silent look of reproach is not the right response. Silence communicates to some students that there are some things which are left unsaid in polite society, but we essentially agree. It took me a long time to realize that the stern glare of reproach does not condemn intolerance, instead it pathetically pleads “not here, please don’t ruin my class”. Every other student observes this dynamic. Students in such a class learn that their feelings will not be protected, that there is no line that cannot be crossed. I developed a routine that I call “the cool generation” to create a safe space in my classroom. Click here to read about it; the key is to make sure that you get a full, hearty class response that they reject the hatred of past generations.

On that day I chose the drawing of a piece of paper from a pile that students had created weeks beforehand. Sometimes when class-created stories are not clicking I will “press the reset button” by having students draw for ten minutes in silence, and then we will move on with a student interview or a movie talk. For that reason I always have a pile of drawings on my desk that we can later use as inspiration. As I held up the drawing and we established some basic information about the character, I listened closely and did not jump at the first crazy idea that was offered.

This is the character that my kids came up with. Totally respectful, these kids embraced the metaphor in our character and created a serious, meaningful story. Here is the set-up to “Coco” that we created on the first day:

En un bosque mágico hay una hoja de papel que se llama Coco. Coco nació con todas las partes biológicas de un papel, pero ahora que tiene ocho años y seis meses ella se identifica como “una hoja”, no como “un papel”.

Todos los árboles del bosque son las madres de Coco. Coco tiene muchas mamás.

Ella tiene un hermano mayor también. El hermano es un papel grande que le pega a Coco cuando sus madres no están mirando. Coco se pone maquillaje (líquido corrector) para que sus mamás no vean los moretones.

That took us a good half hour of discussion in Spanish to develop the idea while making sure that each development of our story remained perfectly comprehensible to everyone. When the student came up with that first powerhouse idea, that Coco self-identifies as “a piece of paper” (feminine noun) although she was born with all of the biological parts of “un papel” (masculine noun), I paused and in English told the class that we could not move forward if we could not do this respectfully. “I am willing to follow this story to see where it goes, but we are not using this as a code to make fun of somebody real in this school. Are you with me?” I think that pausing and explicitly setting the boundaries in English was important, even though that was a norm that should be expected of any class story. I think it also served as a social cue that we were doing something extraordinary in that story, and so the engagement was quite high.

The next day was one of the most emotionally draining classes I have ever taught. At first everyone was silent, reluctant to face what we constructed the day before. I let them brainstorm in pairs for a few minutes and then an avalanche of violent, vengeful plots came forward… pushing her bully brother into a paper shredder, for example. Finally I turned to them and admitted (in English) that I really needed a hopeful ending. An ending that did not walk the road of violence. An ending that is not pure fantasy but maybe, with the help of a little poetry, could help us imagine a brighter future. Wow did they come through. The ending is bittersweet.

This was an effective language class because students were so engaged. It is not a question of how many repetitions did I get on a particular target structure– when students are highly engaged, they pick up more with less repetitions. This is how my students learn the subjunctive, this is how they learn advanced grammatical constructions like si clauses. We were also hitting so many AP and IB themes in this story that it is no wonder that my students can spontaneously respond when they take those exams after only four years of classes.

Here is the rest of the story that we created together on the second day:

Coco se culpa por el abuso de su hermano. Ella se dice que no debe decírselo a nadie. Ella cree que es ella la mala. Ella cree que si dijera algo a sus mamás, sería una mala hoja de papel. Nosotros sabemos que ella está equivocada, pero muchas veces las víctimas se quedan en silencio. No debe ser así, pero desafortunadamente es normal.

Un día Coco decide decir algo a su mamá. Ella dice a una de sus mamás que su hermano le pega y primero la mamá no cree que sea la verdad. “Mi hijo nunca te pegaría”, dice la mamá-árbol. Después la mamá le dice que “papeles serán papeles” y que Coco no debe provocar a su hermano. Coco se pone muy triste.

Coco decide que necesita irse. Ella se dobla y se convierte en un avión de papel. Vuela muy lejos. El hermano está solo. Después de años él se siente solo, muy solo. Él quiere hablar con su hermana, pero ella no está.

Un día el hermano recibe un regalo. Cuando abre el regalo, él ve que el papel alrededor del regalo es su hermana. Ella volvió solo cuando él estaba listo para verla.

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Persona normal by Benito Taibo

A good addition to a heritage learners classroom library

There are some books that speak to adolescents who are forming a worldview. Over the past year I have suggested Benito Taibo’s Persona normal as an independent reading choice to four of my advanced heritage learners. Three of the students politely returned the book to the bookshelf unread. The fourth student devoured it. He wrote on Goodreads: “nunca supe que un libro puede ser tan estimulante de emoción”. Looking at some of the other reviews (there are close to 2000 of them), this book clearly speaks to certain young people, to inspire them and celebrate a reading life. It seems to alienate some other readers. Well, truthfully I am among the alienated crowd, but I would still recommend buying this book as an independent reading choice for advanced heritage learners. Suggest it to students who may already see themselves as possessing an intellectual inclination and who may see themselves as non-conformists.

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Low Income School? Here is funding to bring students abroad!!

Eligible if at least 40% of your students are receiving free and reduced price lunch

I was recently contacted by the FLYTE Organization, which funds trips for low-income schools that are well outlined and thought out with clear educational and cultural goals. The application window is extremely tight; you need to start working on this now. Before leaving for Winter Break I would drop by to see my principal and get her signature. Look at the deadlines to the left; that is to lead a trip during the summer of 2018. To me this deadline seems so tight that I suspect many school systems would not be able to approve it, which means if you can then your chances of leading a free trip for your students are that much better.

Here is the link to the application guidelines.

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Desaparecido – The thrill of connecting a reader with a home run book

Last July I posted about Spanish translations of graphic novels and manga that I enthusiastically recommend for the classroom. Well, I have exciting news: one of the great manga series, called Desaparecido in Spanish, has been adapted to Netflix. It is called “Erased” in English.

Yes, the audio is in Japanese. Yes, there are options for Spanish as well as English subtitles. But none of that matters to me; what I am excited about is the possibility of matching a student with a home run book. Last year I was able to bond with an otherwise inscrutable heritage learner through our mutual admiration for this series. Finding this series probably was the only reason he eventually paid enough attention in class to actually pass, so I am deeply grateful that it was translated into Spanish. Now that the series is playing on Netflix I anticipate being able to interest non-Spanish speaking otaku, i.e., kids obsessed with manga, often sometimes to the detriment of their social skills (see comment thread below).

The language in the books is certainly not comprehensible for lower level learners, but this is a case in which extreme high-interest may serve as a bridge to reading. Especially if they have already seen the version on Netflix. In any case, these manga are great for book talks and, supplementing it with a few screen shots from the Netflix version, this could be a key book to interest an otherwise impenetrable student. You can find the books for sale here on Spanish Amazon (there are actually 7 or 8 books in the series, but just buy the first to see if it works in your classroom). And, in any case, you probably need something to binge watch over Winter Break. I am only two episodes in, but I am really enjoying the Netflix adaptation of the popular manga. Watch it so you can “sell” the reading to your kids!