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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!

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A whole slew of new comprehensible novels!!!

There are lots of new CI novels being published by independent authors, which is very exciting for those of us with classroom libraries. Here is one of the key secrets to reading in the classroom: kids may be fickle readers, but there is a “home run” book for every reader. The bigger the diversity of comprehensible texts, the more likely you will be able to match a student with a book that tickles their fancy. Only a few years ago CI teachers were on a quest to find the perfect book that pleases everyone in class, but now the focus has shifted to matching each student with a book that will ignite a passion for reading in their second language. For Spanish teachers, this is more and more possible… in level 1! Let’s take a look at some of the new books out there:

Pancho y las momias by Rachel Emery. When Pancho and a new friend sneak into the Guanajuato Mummy Museum at night, unexpected events send them on an adventure around the city. Yes, there are hilarious scenes of mummies waking up and causing havoc in Guanajuato, but there is also something about this book that just feels authentic. Details like the illustration of the man selling tamales and atole set the scene perfectly. The author has captured an aspect of Guanajuato that clearly could only come from real life. I also like that the chapters are very short. It is a novel written in comprehensible Spanish for late beginner/early intermediate Spanish students. Both present and past tense versions of the story are included.

Los tres amigos by Jennifer Degenhardt. It is about time that LGBTQ students can finally find a CI novel that is not implicitly heteronormative! As if teenage friendships aren’t hard enough… Marissa and Jack have been best friends for as long as they can remember, only having troubles when Jack wasn’t always honest about himself. Despite their differences, their friendship endures. However, that friendship is challenged when a new student, Julio, moves to town and upsets the longstanding dynamic between Marissa and Jack. In this level 2+ book, which includes aspects of Puerto Rican culture, readers learn useful vocabulary and are introduced to a progression of verb tenses through the easily understandable plot — understandable even if the emotions of the teenagers are not.

El Jersey by Jennifer Degenhardt. Matías is a typical 7-year-old boy. He is huge fan of the professional soccer teams in Europe, especially the teams in the Spanish league, La Liga. When Matías is not playing soccer, he is watching soccer videos on the iPad. He always looks the part, too, as he can mostly be found wearing uniforms of players on his favorite team, FC Barcelona. He focus on the ball continues as when he travels to Guatemala with his family on an annual trip where he meets Brayan. Brayan is a 6-year-old Guatemalan boy who also loves soccer. Like Matías he plays every chance he gets. Also like Matías, Brayan idolizes his favorite player on the Barça team, Lionel Messi, #10. He wants nothing more than to wear a jersey with the famous forward’s name and number, but those are difficult to find where he lives on Lake Atitlán. In this level 1 book, readers will learn about the culture of Guatemala and how a soccer jersey further connects two soccer-obsessed boys from two different countries. This is a level 1 reader for anyone ages 10-100. The author allowed me to post a preview so that you can evaluate how easy this book will be for your students, click here to download the preview.

El viaje difícil by Jennifer Degenhardt. A story of the times. Juan and his family live in small town in the department of Sacatepequez, Guatemala. Their life, which is simple and good, becomes challenging when their earnings become insufficient to maintain the family. Concerned for the welfare of his family whom he loves, Juan makes the difficult decision to make his way to the United States in search of work opportunities. Based on a story told to the author, this book recounts Juan’s journey north as well as examines the effect of his absence on the family he leaves behind. Readers learn facets of Guatemalan culture through entry level vocabulary and grammar.


Casi me mata el celular by A.C. Quintero. Spanish Level 2/3 Easy Reader. Federico, Damián, and Rubén are your typical teens. They play sports, skateboard, and watch pranks on Youtube; they’ve even mastered filming some of their own pranks at their favorite hangout: la librería. This abandoned bookstore is far away from the adult supervision that seeks to threaten their fun. However, the night of Friday the 13th, their joke goes sour when they stumble upon an uncanny situation. In an effort to satisfy their curiosity, they witness something that will change their lives forever. Now they have to make it out of the sticky situation, alive. “Casi me mata el celular” will take students on a thrilling ride and compel them to contemplate the consequences on the other side of the “Record” button.


La clase de confesiones by A.C. Quintero. Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens and Carlos is stunned. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in his life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand. Carlos invites you to come along on this adventure into La clase de confesiones where…”todos tienen una confesión,” even the teacher!


La bella mentira by A.C. Quintero Carlos is having a bad day, and it’s about to get worse. He leaves Spanish class utterly embarrassed. He had no idea that the teacher was going to partner him up with Jessica, the girl he actually writes about in his class essay. Adding insult to injury, the teacher reads his essay in front of the class, even the mean-spirited things he wrote about his teacher. After running into a few more problems in math class (and his crazy math teacher!), he is faced with the big showdown in the lunchroom. Now, Carlos is between *”la espada y la pared.” He has to make serious decisions. However, a short story in Spanish class may hold the key to all of his problems, and may ultimately lead to his biggest confession of all. Find out in the second installment of the series.

La novia perfecta by Bryan Kandel. This 5,000 word Spanish novel uses simple language to tell the compelling tale of a man who tries his luck at internet dating and ends up on the adventure of his life. The text can be understood by students in level 2 Spanish classes, and the compelling story will engage readers at any level.

 

If you write a CI novel, please drop me a line so that I can check it out. This blog is read by between 500 to 1000 CI teachers every day, and I am pleased to share your work with the CI community. There has never been a better time to develop an independent reading program in your world language classroom.

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Alina´s Inspiring Approach to Accountability with FVR

Alina Filipescu is a teacher who radiates love for her students. She is also a teacher who commands enormous respect from them and, as a result, she is an absolute master at classroom management. I asked Alina to allow me to publish this preview of her coming blog post which will thoroughly describe her entire FVR program. I will link to it once she publishes it. In the meantime, enjoy her spot-on advice for inspiring students to read more in their second language.

Here is how Alina describes her accountability system:

This is what ACCOUNTABILITY looks like when implementing a reading program (SSR/FVR).

1. Students turn in a book they finished reading w/ a sticky note.

2. The most important item on the note is rating the book (1-5 stars) just like the critics do. Students may also write an optional comment about the book.
3. Teacher keeps track of how many books each students reads. I have a list with student names and names of books. I highlight a square on the list when a student finishes a book.
4. Remove sticky notes and either put them on the inside cover of a book for the next student to read (this is what I did last year, all year long) OR post the sticky notes by class, on a wall (this is what I’ve implemented this year).

I have already posted some of these ideas (along w/ Bryce Hedstrom), but this is my complete list on accountability. I NEVER have students do summaries or other dreaded assignments after reading a book. I also share some of their reviews before we do silent reading on Fridays, in order to inspire and motivate others. I’ve noticed that even more students are writing short comments since I’ve been doing this. It’s a simple, yet very efficient way to promote the books.

Update 1/4/2018: read Alina’s full post that expands upon this idea

Click here to read Mónica Romero´s original post that inspired Alina.

Alina Filipescu is a Spanish teacher in Southern California and a regular presenter at NTPRS. She is a contributor to the Ignite Language blog.

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La familia de Federico Rico – Super EASY read

Click on picture to go to the author´s website
Have you noticed how awesomely easy to read are the novels by Craig Klein Dexemple? I have not read this one yet, but in my mind this author is trustworthy to promote without having read. In addition, this book has over 200 illustrations and the author’s students report that it is among the easiest to read novels in his classroom library. Hey, level 3 students LOVE easy to read novels. Follow this link to take a closer look at the novel on Craig´s website.

Just to be clear: book recommendations on my site are not compensated. These are books that I think will help language teachers, that is it.

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Bryan Kandel´s new novel, Los Sobrevivientes

A new independently published novel for level 3 and above
Last year I was offered an opportunity to test out a draft of Bryan Kandel´s new novel in my level 3 classes. I presented it to my students as a choice reading option for the end of the year. Among the students who chose to read Los Sobrevivientes, they were really into it! The novel is a gripping action story based on the true story of a plane full of Uruguayan rugby players which crashed in the Andes on its way to Santiago de Chile. Presumed dead, two men decide that they must hike their way out– without mountain climbing supplies, food, or even a clear idea of where exactly they were.

This book appeals to intermediate and advanced readers who are looking for a good action story full of courageous moments, tough decisions and ultimately an inspiring message. Great reading for heritage learners as well. Click here to check out the book trailer and additional teaching resources that Bryan has posted on his website.

To be clear: I never receive compensation for recommending books. That is obvious I hope, but I just wanted to throw that out there! -Mike Peto

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New books for FRENCH & SPANISH teachers!

Scroll down to the bottom for a bargain

For French teachers: I am thrilled that a summer of collaboration with a trio of smart French teachers has finally given birth to the newest CI-friendly novel in French for our lower-level students. Superhamburgers is a novel that appeals to adolescents because it was written with one of my level 1 classes in 2013. The plot revolves around two students who are lab partners in an AP Chemistry class. Rodney had no idea that the consequences of his actions would reach so far. It started as a bad joke — never washing his hands at the restaurant where he worked after school so that he would have a quiet place to study for his AP classes. By the end of the next day, however, as he was being hunted by a ruthless drug lord, Rodney realized that it had all spiraled horribly out of control. If only he had washed his hands!

The Spanish edition has received rave reviews from teachers and students alike:

Embedded within the novel is a set of 23 illustrations. Followers of my blog have seen my growing obsession with comprehensible cartoons in the classroom. In the novel I have inserted 5 full page comics to help students visualize the developing plot of the novel. At the end of each chapter there is a 2 page word cloud designed as a crutch to help you and your students discuss the chapter in a structured, comprehensible manner. We also have a new Facebook group dedicated to sharing resources for teaching this novel. If you would like to read the first two chapters before committing, you can download them by clicking on this link.

For Spanish teachers: I have published a 2nd edition of Superburguesas with all of the new illustrations (in Spanish, of course) and even the word clouds. This is a gorgeous update and I think it really does help guide students comprehend the novel. Or rather, the illustrations often confirm that they are comprehending the novel.

For both Spanish and French teachers: The prequel to Superburgers, titled Normal hamburgers, is an entire graphic novel designed to be read in level 1, and enjoyed in levels 2, 3, and 4! The graphic novel is already well on its way and will be available this coming December.

The two new editions of Superhamburgers on Amazon, French and Spanish, are currently available for $6.49. I am no longer publishing the first edition, so any book offered at another price is a first edition used copy without the new illustrations and word clouds. However if you avoid Amazon altogether and order groups of five directly through this website you can get a 15% discount. Just click on the “Shop” link at the top of the page. This is a great option for anyone considering buying a full class set!

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Struggling to hold students accountable for reading?

Addressing the toxic culture of non-reading

I have a well-developed classroom library and I emphasize student-selected reading in my classes at all levels, from level 1 through to the heritage learner classes that I teach. I consider myself to be a “krashenista who lives in the real world“, that is, an educator who takes Krashen’s hypothesis’ seriously but also recognizes the role of the classroom teacher to massage those insights about second language acquisition so that they work in our reality. To be clear, Krashen isn’t a brainstem floating in another dimension; his ideas have already been extensively class-tested and you can follow this link to read a summary of the research-based suggestions for setting up a classroom reading program. What I am concerned with here, however, is what I think most teachers seeking to build an independent reading program are struggling with: how to transition students from a punitive compliance approach to reading that is common in many classrooms so that they embrace a pleasure-based approach advocated by Krashen in our classrooms?

A student who has learned to play the game in all of their other classes has been trained to approach reading as a task to undermine. Teachers respond by finding ways to ensure reading compliance such as quizzes, reading guides, writing assignments and random (humiliating) in-class comprehension questions. Our students are immersed in a punitive reading culture that rouses their counterwill; is it any wonder that they huddle before class discussing the reading with the one kid who actually did it, that they send text messages to students in other sections about “surprise quizzes”, that they copy answers to reading guides in the hallways during morning break and that they despise the astute teachers who manage to “play the game well”? Undermining the teacher’s attempts to enforce reading compliance is the game and, I think, one of the reasons adolescents report that they hate reading. The so-called good students may read due to an external motivator (grades, desire to impress an adult), but research on external motivators indicates that external motivators decrease internal motivation. That is to say, reading compliance assignments are unlikely to motivate compliant or non-compliant students to become lifelong readers.

By setting up a pleasure reading program, we krashenistas are attempting to step outside of this game, coaxing students to abandon what is truly a non-reading culture and nudging them to discover a home-run book… the kind of reading experience that is so satisfying that it opens a new world. How naive we must seem to those calculating students who have spent their lives perfecting the game! How silly we must seem! How easy to fool!

When I start my pleasure reading program, I very briefly describe in L1 why we are spending 5-10 minutes at the beginning of the class on independent reading (I often use the quotes from the back of my good reading book marks, a free download). I have several browsing strategies to get multiple books in their hands in the first few days before they commit to any book. Students are allowed to change books until they find one that “is not too bad”, they are always allowed to abandon a book, and they are never quizzed on their independent reading. I demand a silent room while we read, and then I sit with them and read. Afterwards we sometimes spend a brief moment talking about our books in L1 in small groups (this is both a documented way to add pleasure to the reading process as well as a browsing strategy) and I often do comprehensible L2 book talks describing a favorite scene from books in the classroom library (another browsing strategy).

Krashen states that studies have shown that very few students are merely staring into space with glazed eyes during reading period, yet for us classroom teachers it is a subject of heated discussion. Are they really reading? What can we do to make sure? That kid certainly is not reading. The handful who I know are not reading define the entire class in my mind, and it frustrates me. My heritage learners in particular, the ones who gain most from easy pleasure reading, seem to be among the best at faking it unless they think there is going to be real accountability. I need to perfect this bridge between our current reality of the game and that wonderful future when each student has discovered a home-run book. My role as a teacher is to connect students with a home-run book so that they become readers. My instincts and my training as a teacher, however, constantly intrude and push me towards reading compliance measures. I am aware of what is happening in my classroom… I am actually pretty good at the game. But winning the game is counter-productive; I need to short-circuit the logic of the game.

This is what I would like to propose here: (1) teaching a student to read is different from (2) leading a student to love reading. (1) Developing reading skills is different from (2) developing a love of reading. Educators must be very clear that (1) does not lead to (2). The first can be done through brute force such as assigning reading journals, essays, comprehension quizzes, “minimally intrusive” post-reading paragraphs, graphic organizers, rubrics designed to encourage students to reflect on either the reading or the act of reading, assigned discussions in pairs after reading or assigned book talks. The second, however, can only be accomplished through the path of pleasure. If a post-reading discussion is pleasurable, if writing a reaction to a book is pleasurable (for instance, doing so voluntarily on Goodreads.com) or reading about other students reactions to the reading is pleasurable, then the activity will contribute to the greater goal of developing love of reading. If it is not pleasurable, then it plays into the dynamic of the game.

How, then, can we successfully confront the toxic culture of non-reading which is expressed by the game? I have an idea, and this once again comes straight from a conference talk given by Krashen. At NTPRS 2015 Dr. K spoke about the process of becoming a reader and he observed that, before pleasure reading, almost all lifelong readers were read to. I am not talking about being forced to read aloud in class or having the teacher read a boring text aloud. I am talking about an essential kindergarten reading activity that is fun and should not have been dropped neither in middle school nor even in high school. That is to say, readers tend to have had parents or older siblings who read pleasure reading texts to them. Being read to is not the only step to transform a person into a reader (they will then need access to highly-compelling reading), but most readers report that they were once read to. I suspect that most of our students have not had enough experience being read to in pleasurable, read-aloud settings. Here is the key idea in this entire essay: I wonder what would happen if teachers rewired their brains so that, when we witness a non-compliant student during silent reading period, we reacted differently. Rather than reach for a reading compliance strategy, what if we were to think to ourselves, “I have got to do more read-alouds”? I am suggesting that not only would more pleasurable read-alouds move the student further down the road towards becoming a reader, but we would also short-circuit the logic of the game. In the short run I will sit next to that student, engage in a conversation about reading, try to find a better book for him, try to make a connection during a read-aloud, but what I will not do is allow my frustration to perpetuate the dynamic of the game. That is a win/win for all of my students, especially the ones that are actually finding good books and are beginning to think that maybe this class is different…

Jen Schongalla told me about one of her nephews who described the FVR program in his elementary school. He said to her:

All the free reading books were labeled with colored stickers according to the level. I would pick a book, open it at my desk and just sit and think. I’d look around to see what level everyone was on, pick books that were 1-2 levels higher and just sit there. I never read during free reading until I discovered Calvin and Hobbes. Then I was hooked and read the whole series. Around 5th grade they evaluated our reading level and I was told I was reading at a college level.

What strikes me about his recollection is what we can infer to be in the background: a patient teacher who was working hard to connect a non-compliant kid with his home run book.

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Graphic novels & Japanese manga translated into Spanish

At the end of this post is a list of books that I recommend as well as a list of books that I am still trying to figure out how to sell to my students and, lastly, the black list of books that I wish I had never bought.

Over the past two years I have been expanding the graphic novel and manga section of my classroom library. You might be surprised at how many of your “non-reading” students are otakus, secretly obsessed with Japanese anime and manga. A few copies of Naruto translated into Spanish may release a flood of nostalgia and, of course, positive memories of when reading was fun.

One big discovery I made this year was the series Orange (pictured above) by Ichigo Takano. Teach your kids that manga is read from right to left, starting from what western readers would consider to be the last page of the book. Therefore in the caption above the reader would first see the boy with tears in his eyes, then read “muchas gracias” followed by “Suwa, ¿estás llorando?”, finishing with “¡Claro que no! Es la alergia.”

A timid heritage learner of Spanish asked to keep my copy of the series Orange so that she could re-read it over the summer. That is what I call a reading home run! It tells the story of a girl who receives letters from herself written from the future, which instruct her to save one of her friends. “He will disappear if you do nothing“, warns one of the letters. In my classes this series has only gained traction among heritage learners, so if you do not have a heritage learner population you might want to hold back on buying this series.

I have written earlier about the wonderful graphic novel ¡Sonríe! by Raina Telgemeier as well as El perro enamorado de las estrellas by Takashi Murakami. Both can be read by intermediate students of Spanish with some “tolerance of noise”. That tolerance is an important point, usually students exhibit a tolerance for noise when they have a high interest in the reading material. These are not whole group novels, although I do occasionally read parts of these novels with the whole class as a browsing strategy. Some students will want to stay with TPRS novels that are closer to 100% comprehensible, but some will not perk up and enjoy reading until they come across something like a manga. Likewise I had a student, an avowed non-reader, who did nothing but fake read until he saw a copy of Art Speigelman´s Maus in the reserved book shelf behind my desk. I would have never guessed that an interest in the Holocaust would turn him onto reading in Spanish.

En la vida real is a graphic novel (ie not Japanese manga) that attracted a small, very specific following in my class. It tells the story of a young American girl who discovers self-confidence through a persona in an online multi-player game. Valued for her skill as a gamer, she disdains players who purchase the online items which she is proud to earn. Things get complicated when she and her online friends decide to attack the online personas of players who spend their game-time harvesting, only to discover that the “harvesters” are exploited children working in the 21st century version of third-world sweatshops.

Los dioses mienten is about a boy who discovers that one of his classmates is an orphan. In fact, nobody knows that her grandfather passed away soon after her father abandoned them, and she has been fending for herself ever since waiting for her father to return. I cannot remember if there were parts to white out; whenever I read a new manga I often have a black marker and a white-out pen to apply to any scene that shows underwear. I remember this manga as a sweet little tale of childhood innocence.

I am not going to pretend that the Oshinbo series does not address a specialized audience, but if you have an interest in Japanese cuisine then you should get it just for your own reading during FVR time! These books are considered “gastronomic manga”; they do have a plot (father and son gourmets who cannot stand each other due to their competing sense of aesthetics), but it is a thinly veiled excuse to be fascinated by the complexity of Japanese cuisine. Occasionally there is a show down between father and son, which does not necessarily mean that either gets into the kitchen and cooks. The competition is to see who has the best palate (sense of taste). It is absurd, entertaining and enlightening.

El Diario gatuno de Jinju Ito is one of the rare books by this author of horror manga that I can recommend for class use. Students who are familiar with the genre will recognize his style, but fortunately in this book the anxiety for which the author is known stays within bounds. It is something of a cute book about a man who hates cats. I have picture talked a page to help develop student interest in the book.

Adding manga and graphic novels to an FVR library is not the cure for all students, but if you take the time to properly develop interest in this new section it will help some of your students actually enjoy independent reading time. That is a big accomplishment because it is enjoyment of reading, not just reading, that makes students into life-long readers.

Books that I enthusiastically recommend:
Orange (books 1-5) – Ichigo Takano
¡Sonríe! – Raina Telgemeier
En la vida real – Cory Doctorow
María y yo – Miguel Gallardo
Coraline, novela gráfica – Neil Gaiman
Desaparecido (books 1-6) – Kei Sanbe
Los dioses mienten (preview?) – Kaori Ozaki
El diario gatuno de Junji Ito – Junji Ito
Oshinbo a la carte (books 1-7) – Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki Japanese cuisine with a plot
Persépolis integral – Marjane Satrapi (PREVIEW!!!)
Maus – Art Spiegelman (PREVIEW!!!)
Arrugas – Paco roca
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle
Naruto (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Masashi Kishimoto
Dragon Ball (many books… preview with white-out marker) – Akira Toriyama

Books I like that have yet to find an audience:
A Silent Voice – Yoshitoki Oima
Food Wars – Yuto Tsukuda (read with a white-out marker!)
Guía del mal padre – Guy Delisle
El Gourmet solitario – Jiro Taniguchi
Cruzando el bosque – Emily Carroll
El rastreador – Juro Taniguchi
Aventuras de la mano negra – Hans Jurgen Press
Hansel y Gretel – Donald Lemke
Jack y los frijoles mágicos – Blake Hoena
La Bella y la Bestia – Michael Dahl
Memorias de Idhun (graphic novels 1-12) – Laura Gallego García (several students enjoyed this series, but it is adapted from the novels in a confusing, disjointed manner).

Mistakes: books I have bought that never made it into my classroom library:
Los gritos del pasado (sexual violence)
Fantasmas – Raina Telgemeier (read this review)
Doble sentido – Niklas Asker (sexuality)
Futbolín (sexuality)
El guardián invisible – la novela gráfica – Dolores Redondo (sexual violence)
Traición, la torre oscura 3 – Stephen King (made it but rarely read due to tiny font)
Fútbol, la novela gráfica – Santiago García (sexuality)
Vagabond – Takehiko Inoue (sexual violence)
Voces en la oscuridad – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Hotel – Boichi (sexuality)
Tomei O.C. – Junji Ito (sexual violence)
Mirai Nikki – Sakae Esuno (extreme violence)
Tungsteno – Marcello Quintanilha (sexuality)
Yo, asesino – Keke Altarriba (sexual violence)
V de Vendetta – Alan Moore (sexuality)

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Conexiones by Bryce Hedstrom

A collection of short, non-fiction entries that excite a different kind of reader

People sometimes ask me how I keep students from getting bored of my schtick creating class stories day after day. The key, of course, is that I am not doing the same thing every day. On some days we create class stories together, some days I tell a fable, some days we discuss the plot of short video clips or a Spanish language tv show that we are watching in class, and some days we discuss our own personal stories through student interviews. But there is one kind of story that feels so different: non-fiction.

The readings in Bryce´s book excite a different kind of reader: the child who spends hours curled up with a magazine like Ranger Rick, Popular Science or National Geographic. This book rounds out a classroom library by focusing on interesting non-fiction that is comprehensible to novice learners of Spanish. Whether offered as an independent reading selection, read in small groups or part of a whole-class reading activity, these readings are a necessary complement to the fiction that is central to my classes.

I like to do a few of these readings as a whole class activity to hook students on the pleasure of reading non-fiction. Not all students enjoy reading about the animals of Latin America (for example), and that is okay. Then I leave the book out for FVR. Those who long for “something real” will be attracted like magnets to Bryce´s book and, in turn, will be much more attentive during the fiction stories spun in class because they recognize that one part of the class was designed just for them.

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Story Listening Lesson with my Spanish 1 students

A copy of the story, video of my lesson and power point full of student drawn pictures for class review the next day

In early May I told this story to my Spanish 1 students. It is inspired by a classic fable but I added an unexpected twist at the end. Here is a copy of the story as I wrote it before telling it to my students. I think it is good practice to encourage students to read the story later.

I do not choose stories based upon language that I want to introduce in class. For story listening I never hunt for a story that has the imperfect tense or a certain group of target words. I do occasionally teach classic TPRS stories with target structures that I want to nail down, but that is a small part of my teaching routine. Instead I normally search for stories that I think will interest students and then rewrite the story so that it will be comprehensible. There are definitely some words that my students did not know, such as chismosa, pueblo, injusto and entierro. I wrote them on the board as they came up in the story and perhaps circled them very lightly just so that students understood in this one context, this one time. The words menor and mayor also came up, and have shown up in other stories, but I felt like I needed to give a little extra attention to those words.

Finally at the end of the video I tell students watching the video at home to write a 150 word version of this story in Spanish. That was simply for the group of students that had been pulled out of my class for a motivational speaker. That is not how I normally follow up a Story Listening activity. Normally I will have them quickly write about the story in English so that I can glance through the papers and verify their understanding. Today I gave them a paper with only one sentence from the story and had them illustrate that one sentence. At the end of the week we will revisit this story with a power point full of their illustrations (which I will insert here when it is done). I will retell the story using their pictures, and perhaps I will have them also retell in pairs but I know that what makes them speak fluently is not the speaking practice… it is the multiple comprehensible exposures to hearing and reading the fable.

Added the next day:

The next day we did a quick retell and I then gave students five minutes to write as quickly as possible everything they could remember. Here are three random writing samples. Since many of the grades that I record are simply based on completion it is meaningless to say whether these students are “A” or “C” students. What I can say is that they are rarely absent, so this is what happens when they come to class:

Click here to watch the video of the story listening part of the lesson (which is about 15 minutes long):

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LA CLASE DE CONFESIONES: A NEW SPANISH READER BY A. C. QUINTERO

This looks like such fun, I cannot wait to add it to my FVR library!

Carlos hates Spanish class with a passion but finds the will to survive when he lays eyes on Jessica. She is the reason he “tolerates” his boring class. However, his secret crush is compromised when his teacher decides to “shake things up a bit” in class. A simple writing assignment turns out to be a lethal injection to his social life and by extension his chances with Jessica. First, his nosy teacher tries to “set him up with Jessica,” this plan immediately backfires. Then, the unthinkable happens. This turns into one of the most embarrassing moments in Carlos’ life. But all is not lost. If Carlos plays his cards right, he could have a winning hand.

Carlos invites you to come along this adventure into La clase de confesiones….todos tienen una confesión (even the teacher!) Word count 3,000, most of which are cognates in addition to vocabulary totally appropriate for Spanish level 1. Glossary included!

The author gets the most royalties if you purchase it directly through createspace.

However, you can purchase through Amazon.

Download Free Teacher’s Manual on Teacherspayteacher.com– La clase de confesiones.

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The growing FVR cartoon library

At this point we have over 20 submissions in our collaborative, downloadable FVR cartoon library.

A few of the cartoons have been fully illustrated in color and are ready to be laminated or added to a cartoon binder for easy reading by students during their free reading part of the class.

Some of the cartoons have been illustrated with pencil so that it will not be costly to print out the cartoons. If you have your students illustrate either colored or pencil versions and they turn out well, please send us the best example so that we can offer both colored and black & white versions.

Most of the cartoons also have a non-illustrated version. These are great for substitute plans or a homework assignment where you want to lightly assess student´s reading comprehension. Instead of printing off a class set of one cartoon, please consider printing off 5 or 10 different cartoons and having students illustrate a random cartoon. Send in the best.

I like to emphasize that the act of illustrating is not an efficient use of class time; assign these as substitute plans or occasional homework to supplement the CI students are hearing in class. The real value of the cartoon library will be once we have a full reading library to cater to the needs of the lowest level readers in class so that your FVR program will be strong and effective.

If you would like to join our collaborative effort please read the instructions and submit a class-created cartoon. All languages are welcome.

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Hacking Quizlet to make good reading activities

A reading activity that would impress administrators

On Monday we were chatting about our weekend and a story surged forth about a girl who went to Disneyland with a classmate. Today I had a pair of artists work to create a poster while the rest of the class and I reworked the story into a fantasy-zombie-Disney story. By the end of the class we had a decent story up on Textivate (if you have a Textivate subscription you can search our story in the “Public Resources” section using the keyword Mirabella.

After school I brought in one of my colleagues and we filmed ourselves reading the story with the poster between us. My plan is to play the video retell tomorrow and then follow up with a game of Quizlet Live using a quizlet set that I created from the story.

To make this into an effective reading activity (rather than a vocabulary list) I took the story and split each sentence in half, so that one side logically leads to the next. I uploaded it as a Quizlet vocabulary list so that is looks like this:

Tomorrow when I log into Quizlet Live the students will play on their cell phones, matching the first part of the sentence with the second half. It is a quick 10 minute small group activity that administrators love to see because students are working together in small groups, they are laughing and involved in the activity and it appears to be very student-centered. Of course, I know that real conversations with my students are a much more efficient use of class time. Nonetheless this is a decent 10 minute activity that draws students in, impresses administrators, gives me a short break and then allows me to spend the rest of my class constructing stories… which I think is the best use of class time.

Bonus: I can pull this sequence out again in a couple of weeks on a day when I need a bailout move. This is wonderful review and easily buys me 15 minutes to reconstruct my lesson plans.

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The FREE online FVR Cartoon library

In my opinion, this has lots of potential.

Lots of people continue to ask me about the free downloadable FVR start-up kit that I created back in 2014. I posted two short novels that my classes had co-written, formatted so that anyone could print and add them to their own class library. The project did not attract the collaboration that I had hoped – who has time to co-write entire novels with their classes?! I temporarily closed the website until I could create an easier collaborative project from which busy teachers could realistically benefit. Today I would like to invite you to imagine again the possibilities of this wonderful, much reduced but much more realistic project.

(A) Why FVR?

Instead of novels we are focused on two page cartoon versions of class-created stories. If you are imagining stories with your classes, come take advantage of the creativity of other classrooms around the world and stock up your FVR library!

I predict that this will be great for new teachers lacking resources. This will be great for experienced teachers who are looking for comprehensible, independent reading for their level 1 classes. This will be great for teachers of lesser taught languages who do not have many choices to stock their FVR library. When this really takes off the online FVR library will be a wormhole into classrooms that do not yet appreciate the effectiveness of storytelling methods.

Currently there are already about a dozen cartoons available. To get access to our growing collection, I merely ask that you ask an original story with your classes, write it down with them and then simplify it further to fit onto one of our blank cartoon templates that we provide. You do not even have to illustrate it (although inside the cartoon index we provide both non-illustrated and illustrated versions—the non-illustrated versions are great for substitute plans).

See the details at: https://fvrclasslibrary.wordpress.com/

quote2

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Book review: Sonríe

sonrie This was a great purchase. It has been displayed among my new FVR books for the last week and has already developed a fan base among my Spanish 3 students, including one reluctant reader who I worried I would never reach. Glancing through their quick writes about their independent reading I was surprised to see that he has been flying through the book, and loves it. Several students were familiar with the original English version from their middle school reading experiences, but this seems to be a plus in that it aids in making the book comprehensible. Nonetheless, for level three students, this book already is comprehensible enough and even students who were unfamiliar with the English version have expressed interest. Take a look at the example page below to get a sense of whether this might be a good purchase for your classroom FVR library:
example-page

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Good Reading FVR Bookmarks

A Free Voluntary Reading program requires a lot of love…

…and one of the requirements that I have been slacking on lately is providing the continual encouragement that students need. I am not referring to banal attaboys so that students reluctantly soldier on, in fact I am not talking about extrinsic rewards at all; I am talking about developing among them a deeper ownership of the reading program. Beniko Mason has written that learners need to understand the why of the reading program if it is to truly take hold. Paul Nation suggests that language learners spend almost a quarter of their language learning time on extensive reading, using texts specifically designed to be comprehensible to their level. Now that the second bookmark-front-and-backsemester is starting (and I am pushing forward with FVR with my level one students), I need to get a little more consistent with selling the reading program to my students.

To that end I have developed a set of 35 Good Reading FVR bookmarks that I want to share with you. On one side is an attractive design; some are meant to be colored in, many refer directly to the act of reading, some reference a cool cultural product. On the other side is a good reading quote. While students may read the quote, they really are there for me to highlight at the beginning or end of the independent reading session. The reading quotes have been harvested from the writings of Stephen Krashen, Jim Trelease, Beniko Mason, Paul Nation, Frank Smith, Kató Lomb, Haruki Murakami, Bryce Hedstrom, Beverly Cleary, Norbert Schmitt, Thomas Aquinas, Paul Sweeney, Alan Maley, and Groucho Marx.

I print out the first seven pages on heavy, light-colored card stock. Flip them over and print out pages eight to fourteen (the quotes) on the reverse side. Using a paper cutter I cut 1/2 inch margins on all sides except for the top, leaving a space for students to write their names that will pop out of the top of the book. I will encourage students to decorate the book marks (on their own time) and, once they are ready, I laminate their book mark using the self-adhesive laminating sheets that I also use to protect the covers of popular paperbacks in my library. Find the free download by following this link to my TpT store.

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Story Listening, almost

Good story listening is reaching “the soul of the reading”

peto-cangrejosWe are reading the classic short story Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes by García Márquez in my heritage learners class. I have been feeling guilty that I have not planned anything lately for the higher ability learners in class (about 30% of the students in a very differentiated class) so I pulled out some challenging but truly rewarding reading. Higher ability kids in the past have really warmed to this tale, so I thought that I would buckle up and fly through this beautiful story the best I could. Looking through old lesson plans I found a myriad of pre and post-reading activities that we could work through as a class so that, hopefully, every student would find some success. You can find a lot of those materials here, in a post that I published two years ago.

The funny thing is… wow those first two days felt horrible. I could feel the joy withering in my artless hands as together we read the first, basic embedded reading. My intention was to get straight to the good part but instead I had a humorless story skeleton that focused merely on plot.

At night I have been reading about the story listening technique developed by Beniko Mason, who questions whether “reading activities” are more efficient or more effective at developing language than simply providing more interesting/comprehensible reading and listening. That is when it occurred to me that my reading activities, meant to scaffold the reading of a specific version of the story, are putting the brakes on enjoying the soul of the text. My ah-ha moment: maybe difficult texts should always be presented orally first so that the storyteller can closely tune the telling of the tale to the audience.

quoteI use reading activities to make comprehensible a text that otherwise would be incomprehensible. Why am I seeking to push incomprehensible texts down the throats of my students? Because the reading is beautiful to my mind, because it occupies a central place in the target language culture, because I want my students to gasp at the mind-blowing creativity of a writer like GGM. All of these objectives can be reached through an oral retelling of the tale, so I dropped all of my canned reading activities mid-week and decided to meet my students where they were through story listening.

Once I looked at the story with new eyes… not to prepare students to read the quote2original text but rather to enjoy the most marvelous moments of the tale, it changed everything. I realized that I can tell this tale to my non-heritage learners. And I did, in one period. As I was reviewing the video of my teaching I heard for the first time the voice of one of my students who sits next to the camera. He was muttering, midway through the story listening session, “This is getting serious… I am so invested in this story!” Although it sounds planted, it was not. There were 37 juniors crammed into that room but, by their silent attention, one could be mistaken to believe it was just me and that one kid. Here is a link to that video. The first few minutes are boring as I set up the class but the story picks up after a few minutes.

I did stray in one important way from the ethos of story listening: I had my students illustrate the story as I told it, and when I was finished I had them go back and write in text to their cartoon versions. I just could not trust that they would listen to me for 36 minutes straight without daydreaming or outright snoozing. I am honestly not sure if this lack of faith reflects my own uncertainty in my skills as a storyteller, recognition that school has taught them to play the accountability game, or simply if the activity, the illustrating, helps them maintain the thread of a complicated story in their own minds. Maybe a bit of all three.

Here are some of the cartoon panels that they passed in (all non-heritage speakers):

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Students need to browse

Wrapping my mind around the shift from required reading to desirable reading

Some tweaks are “good to implement if you can”. Other tweaks carry the urgency of “absolutely change how you do this right now”. This may not be maximum urgency, but if you have a pleasure reading program then creating a browsing wall with book covers facing outward will noticeably increase the circulation of your books.

When assigning a required reading to a class the main concern of the teacher will inevitably be to assure that the reading is comprehensible to all students. A pleasure reading program introduces a slightly different dynamic: the teacher becomes concerned with connecting each student to the right book, which is both comprehensible and targeted to the interests of the student. If you scoff at the idea that this is even possible in a world language classroom, you need to check out the amazing diversity of well-written, limited vocabulary fiction books now available for language learners!

I estimate that my classroom library has between 1500-2000 books written for beginning language learners all the way through to YA fiction for heritage learners. Last school year, when all of the books were contained beautifully within a few bookcases, I had a hard time getting students to browse the books. Each shelf was labeled according to the topic of the books, but students rarely explored. Despite the book talks and gentle nudging, I rarely managed to get a student to take the time to pull out books and find their dream book.

This year I created a “Books of the week” wall display from which students choose a book for independent reading in class. I rotate a portion of the books each week so that students eventually see the front covers of my entire library. Rather than merely relying on my own knowledge of each student to connect them with an interesting book I have found a way to discretely suggest new genres to all students. This really hit home when one of my stand-offish heritage learner students recently lunged to claim my Spanish edition of the graphic novel Maus. I would have never guessed that he had an interest in WWII.

library-1

On Fridays students place books that are being actively read on a cart so that I am sure to have them available the following week. I still encourage students to browse my bookshelves, but for those students who have not yet learned the pleasure of browsing this is a nice, structured way to introduce them to one of the essential skills of a real reader.

How did I create my little book ledges?

I am lucky that the interior walls of my classroom are made of a material much like a bulletin board. I managed to staple a hand-crafted ledge made of laminated paper sentence strips which you can buy in a teachers supply store. Behind each book is a velcro strip positioned exactly four inches above the ledge, and each book has the opposite side of the velcro strip (again, four inches up). Finally a student in each class has the job of “King/Queen of Books”. Students return the books to that one person who is responsible for placing them on the wall in such a way that they slightly overlap (see the photo below). That way none of the books splay outward, ruining their binding.

If you are just starting a pleasure reading library and are looking for where to find these specialized, limited vocabulary books then check out the following websites: Bryce Hedstrom, TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, One Good Story, CI Reading, TPRS Books, Fluency Fast, Spanish Cuentos

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Introducing CI Reading

cireading front page

I felt like this was the summer in which more and more TPRS authors published their novels independently and, frankly, I was having a hard time keeping track of it all! So here is my solution: a simple blog https://cireading.wordpress.com/ to keep track of independently published TPRS novels.

I have pages for several languages and can add more if you independently publish a TPRS novel in Hungarian, for example. The design is simple; click on the language and you will see a set of book covers (no descriptions), click on the book cover and you will be sent straight to the author´s page.

Finally the best part: as new titles are published I will post a blog post. All you have to do is subscribe to the blog and you will be informed whenever a new TPRS novel is published on an independent publishing platform. If you independently publish a novel, just tell me in a comment on the blog. It does not get any easier than this!

BTW, I will be cross-posting on My Generation of Polyglots so if you already subscribe to this blog then you do not have to subscribe to CiReading. On the other hand, if you are a French teacher and do not want to subscribe to this blog, just go to https://cireading.wordpress.com/ and subscribe there.

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How I melded SSR with whole class reading to encourage independent reading with accountability

Independent reading? Whole class novels? The best of both!

I have trouble maintaining enthusiasm for a whole class novel. Even if we start well, I am quickly reminded of Donalyn Miller´s critique of the practice: a circus of lovingly-prepared scaffolding activities limits time for actual reading. Actual reading is what accounts for the incredible gains in language acquisition, not the skill-building activities surrounding the reading. Perhaps TPRS teachers who choose to teach whole class novel units (often structured by teachers guides) fear that the novel will not be comprehensible to students without their guidance. But look at it this way: in order to read a novel that is above their students reading ability, teachers are dramatically decreasing the time available to read in class. The irony is that students who are fed a diet of incredibly easy reading in level 1 can eventually take on the level 3 novels easily, on their own.

I wanted an approach to reading whole class novels that would allow my students to read at their own pace, but also provide the kind of scaffolding that is the hallmark of the whole class novel. I wanted my students who finish their class novel to be able to go on to an FVR selection so that everyone is maximizing the reading time we have available. I wanted a minimum of class time spent explaining the novel. In the past, when I taught whole class novels that students struggled with, I did not sense that my lessons teaching them how to read advanced texts does not make them into readers. Instead it prepares students to confront complex texts, each year more and more difficult. On the other hand easy pleasure reading, losing yourself in the action of a story and not having to stop to complete a written analysis… that is what hooks a student on reading.

If you want to spend less time explaining novels and more time actually reading them then it is crucial that you choose easy to read novels. Struggling through one novel is far less effective for students than breezing through ten easy ones. Choose easy easy easy novels. I just finished reading my own TPRS novel, Superburguesas, with my Spanish 1 students (second semester). Several expert TPRS teachers with whom I have consulted place my novel within the reading abilities of 2nd semester Spanish 1 to 1st semester of Spanish 2. That means that Spanish 3 students can read it too, easily. We used many of the free activities that I have posted on this blog, but not in a traditional sequence. Although this teaching sequence took 5 weeks and 3 days to complete, we dedicated only seven days of class time to explaining the novel. Here is a description of how I did it.

p24On a Wednesday I introduced chapter zero, reading and using the activities to thoroughly understand this very short chapter. We also dedicated Thursday and Friday to whole class reading of chapter 1. After those first three days reading chapters 0 and 1 together I then let students enjoy the rest of the novel on their own during SSR/FVR time. Students finished at their own pace; the fast readers were able to choose new novels once they were finished but there was no effort to hurry anyone along. I wanted the first pass through the novel to be as low-stress and self-directed as possible. In the meantime I offered a voluntary reading group once a week after school for kids that felt like they needed more structure. I had five regular participants, all kids who had transferred into our class midyear from non-TPRS schools. Together we explicitly translated and I would ask circling questions based on what was on a particular page that we were reading.

On most days we started our class session with 10 minutes of FVR. After three weeks of FVR most students had chosen a new book, so I spent the fourth week using the Superburguesas comprehension quizzes and crossword puzzles as brief warm-ups after FVR. During this fourth week some students picked up Superburguesas again during FVR because those warm-ups must have made them realize that they needed to read the book a little closer. The warm-ups were just for a few minutes a day before our normally scheduled class (we frequently PQA about students lives, we also did several story-asking sessions, quite a few random movie talks and we have been watching episode 3 of El Internado). At the end of the fourth week I gave students this chronology quiz, click here for a PDF or click here for .docx in which students have to label each sentence in the order that it happened in the book. I entered this grade into my online grade book so that all stakeholders (myself, parents and each student) would be well-aware of who needed special attention during the next week. I also attached a note to the assignment indicating that there would be a retake the following Friday and the highest of the two grades would become the permanent grade.

The next four days were dedicated largely to discussing and acting out scenes from a book that students had already read. Suspending FVR for the week, we started each class session looking at the word cloud for the chapter we were going to review. When a student pointed to a word I (1) established meaning, (2) explained how it showed up in the chapter and (3) immediately connected the word to the students world.

For example, when a student pointed at devolver I wrote on the board devolver = to return a thing, like a book. En capítulo 9, I said, señor Marzo quiere que Rodney devuelva la pintura. No quiere matarlo, solo quiere que devuelva la pintura. ¿Quién necesita devolver la pintura? Rodney, claro. ¿Y quién quiere que la devuelva? Señor Marzo. And then I asked what other things are often returned: kids called out libros, ropa, comida mala. ¿Adónde voy para devolver un libro?, I asked.

After looking at the word cloud I asked students to help create an oral summary of the chapter. I chose my favorite parts of the chapter for students to act out without having to hammer down every sentence. This was a whole class activity that led to a summary of the chapter written on the board. Students copied each chapter summary into their notebooks. We did 2-3 chapters per day and were finished by Thursday. On Friday students took this fill in the blank assessment, here in .PDF or click here to download it as a .docx. I provide the .docx so you can change it… all it takes is one google search for students to find this page!

The last four days of instruction were intensive days of review, but most of this unit was characterized by easy pleasure reading at the pace of the student. I saw kids smiling while reading, but even more so once they were allowed to choose their reading and could immerse themselves into their own interests. Yet I still had specific feedback on specific structures from the class novel, and I had time to make sure that they have been acquired. I much prefer story-asking and FVR, but if I have to do a whole class novel I think that this is a good approach.

final quiz

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El gato de Sèvres

This widely anthologized story by Mexican author Marco Almazán is humorous and also fun to act out.

We just finished reading this story in my heritage speakers class. I like that it is short but also has a good amount of vocabulary to explicitly play with throughout the week prior to actually reading the story. Students had a surprisingly good reaction to the story, with several chuckling aloud. I loved that!

At the beginning of the week I wanted to make sure that they knew the vocabulary so that they could get swept up into the story. Nothing ruins humor faster than having to pause to remember what a word means. We started with this list of twenty-three words and spent about thirty minutes talking (in Spanish) about the words. I would never give my non-heritage speakers such a long vocabulary list, but for my heritage speakers many of these words are not exactly new, but not always part of their active vocabularies either. The conversations that we have help activate prior knowledge (such is often the case with words like rabo, repugnante, and roñoso). Out of context my students stare blankly at me when I say the word roñoso, but a flash of recognition strikes across the room the moment I say something like No quiero que mi hija salga con aquel roñoso….

2 vocab sample completed 001As we talk we create our own definitions in Spanish, with my gentle guidance. Click on the photo to the right to see a copy of the definitions that we came up with this year; they are not dictionary definitions (for the most part) but rather generated from student ideas. This process helps me recognize which words I really have work on this week. The least familiar words will likely show up in a game of contacto at some point during the week. Starting with FVR and ending with a few minutes of a telenovela, I think this is enough for the first day.

On the second day, after our FVR period is complete, we use this power point presentation as a conversation piece, Although it is set up as a vocabulary presentation I definitely take the opportunity to discuss each photo, speculating and building little stories while finding as many occasions as possible to recycle the vocabulary in context. You could rush through this in 4 minutes, but I think it is better if you draw it out into a twenty minute activity. Afterwards, just for fun, we played boggle en español and then ended with ten minutes of telenovela.

On the third day I read and acted out the story. At first I projected the story against a screen, had a student sit at the computer and scroll down as I read, and I acted out the story with a few props and the help of one student actor (who played the part of the antiques dealer). Since I have students with vastly different reading abilities I like to act out and read aloud many stories. After we read the story I distributed copies to students and they answered the questions. I then pulled up the vocabulary power point presentation one more time and, as we saw each picture, I asked students to explain how that word was used in the story. For example, when they saw roñoso they just said something like el gato está roñoso.

Finally, on the fourth day of the lesson, we started with a longer FVR period and then I gave them this vocabulary assessment. On the back of the assessment I had them write about their FVR reading for the week. I like that, by the end of the week, even the students with a weak vocabulary can successfully complete this assessment and feel good about having read an interesting, authentic piece of literature.

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Crosswords: lame or fabulous?

Both, of course.

cap 2 puzzleThe ideal CI crossword puzzle is a reading activity, not a decoding activity. Even better, it is wrapped inside an exciting group activity. Here are the crossword games that I created as post-reading activities to chapters 1-10 of my TPRS novel, Superburguesas. Students work in groups of three. Each group has one copy of the puzzle (without clues). The clues are taped outside against the wall, in the hallway.

Each group member is assigned one job (s/he can switch jobs with a teammate mid-game, but only one student at a time can be doing each job). One student, the corredor, goes outside to read the clues. The escritor stays inside guarding their clue sheet (one per team) and writes the answers. The last student is the lector, which gives him or her the right to consult the novel. I always keep the novels in a separate part of the class to make the game a little more exciting. These crossword games are meant to be short… just a quick burst of movement to keep the blood flowing.

Check out my Superburguesas homepage to see the other free activities that I have posted to teach my TPRS novel.

(Click on the images to get a larger image, then right click to download the image)

Chapter 1 clues and puzzle:
cap 1 clues
cap 1 puzzle

Chapter 2 clues and puzzle:
cap 2 clues
cap 2 puzzle

Chapter 3 clues and puzzle:
cap 3 clues
cap 3 puzzle

Chapter 4 clues and puzzle:
cap 4 clues
cap 4 puzzle

Chapter 5 clues and puzzle:
cap 5 clues
cap 5 puzzle

Chapter 6 clues and puzzle:
cap 6 clues
cap 6 puzzle

Chapter 7 clues and puzzle:
cap 7 clues
cap 7 puzzle

Chapter 8 clues and puzzle:
cap 8 clues
cap 8 puzzle

Chapter 9 clues and puzzle:
cap 9 clues
cap 9 puzzle

Chapter 10 clues and puzzle:
cap 10 clues
cap 10 puzzle

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

el que diran I LOVE the Orca Soundings in Spanish series! Originally created for reluctant readers in English, this series has been beautifully translated to Spanish with a limited vocabulary that nicely bridges between TPRS readers and so-called “authentic” literature. I originally was skeptical because there is nothing particularly latino about these books. Whatever fears I may have had have long been thrown out the window; the themes in these books are so universal to adolescents that they are extremely relevant to my own students. The stories move quickly and the teen problems are realistic. Thus far I have read three of these books and they have all been gripping in their own ways. If you have heritage speakers in your classes who are engaged in an FVR program, include some of these books. I suspect that, like me, you will be back to buy the entire series.
You can find the whole series at the website of Orca Book Publishers.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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A Map to Transitioning Your Class to FVR

It is not going to happen all at once

Map to FVR paradise Last summer I encouraged a lot of teachers to set up their own Free Voluntary Reading programs (FVR). Not only do kids enjoy reading books more when they get to choose their reading, but there is a mountain of research supporting FVR in the World Language classroom when done correctly. However, even the strongest proponents of pleasure reading (i.e. Krashen) recognize that FVR is a long-term strategy. You will not see the impact in a week. A month is pretty short. We are talking about benefits that emerge after months and become strikingly obvious after a year or more. Or at least, those are my experiences. Today I want to outline a map of what to expect as your program takes root, and a few ways to assess your program while observing the cardinal rule of pleasure reading: don´t assess your students.

Lack of assessment feels like landing a plane in the fog; that is all the more reason to make sure that your program is research-based. I regularly consult Janice L. Pilgreen´s The SSR Handbook because it is a research-based approach that identifies eight characteristics of highly successful FVR programs. Some of the characteristics are more or less obvious, like having appealing reading material available in the classroom. When I wonder if my program is floundering I take the opportunity to ask my heritage speakers about what I can buy next. Even though my library is fairly large, continuing to ask students about their reading preferences sets the right tone: FVR is reading that we want to do.

It is a common misunderstanding that FVR is just “sit and read for 10 minutes”. Pilgreen points out that highly successful FVR programs DO have follow-up activities, even though those activities do not qualify as assessment. There are several things I do as follow-up activities. My favorite is to spend 4-5 minutes in small groups and have every student say something about what happened in their book today. All students talk, all students ask at least one question. Since I was reading too I join one of the groups; but no notes are taken and nothing passed in. I tell my students that we are engaging in the kind of talk that real readers do; real readers talk about their books with other readers. At first the conversations are very blah, and I am sure that this is partly because in the forefront of every student´s mind is the thought, “Why try? He is not counting this as a grade”. Over time, however, these chats become a source of information as students begin to share actual tidbits that they liked about their books. By the end of the year these talks are the main source through which students decide what to read next.

Another activity that I like to do are book talks. Whenever I introduce a new book into the class library I always place it up front and talk about it before the reading period. I also like to end a reading period with a book talk (when we are not chatting in small groups). Before I even start FVR with my level 1 students (in second semester) we have done about two months of book talks so that they are already familiar with the easy readers. In my classroom I am the one who gives book talks, but if you choose to have students give book talks then keep it on a voluntary basis.

book reviewsWhen students complete an entire book I allow them to post a book review on my back wall. The reviews are quick and painless to write; the major draw is rating it. The book review sheet is only a quarter of a page and provides a space for students to fill in up to four stars, write a sentence in English about what they liked and another about what they would change. This is entirely voluntary.

Occasionally I do have students complete a reading journal. I do this when I sense that students are not respecting the reading period; in that case the grade is simply based on completion. It also helps me identify who needs help choosing a book (that is, if they are choosing a different book every day). Most of all I see these reading journals as a part of the transition; few readers voluntarily keep journals of their pleasure reading and thus I want to minimize the use of journaling after FVR. Even when some students are defying me by simply staring at a book without reading, I remind myself that writing in a reading journal threatens to kill the internalized pleasure of reading that many of my students are developing. Assign reading journals sparingly.

Finally, I want to recognize that there will be students who will try to undermine the pleasure reading period. Do not feel bad if you still have a few students sulking during FVR. It has taken my most intransigent students months to honestly engage in pleasure reading. One heritage-speaker in particular from last year´s class often visits me and always mentions how much she read. She comes in and looks at the books, points to ones that she remembers, and exudes pride. What she does not seem to recall is that she spent nearly the first half of the year staring at the wall, holding the book upside down, crossing her eyes and distracting her friends. All she remembers now is that she joined the club of readers in my class, and that identity stuck. Every year I see transformations in students and I think that is partly because many students approach class as a game, to see how they can cheat the activity. The only way to battle this attitude is to smile and remain encouraging. Currently I have about a dozen kids who are just wasting away our FVR time, and it is so painful for me to watch, but I am convinced that external motivators will only undermine the internal motivation that they need to develop in order to truly join the club of readers.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my recommendations for buying a classroom library. One of the books is mine, but other than that I get absolutely nothing from making these recommendations.

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Word clouds to preview Superburguesas

Click here to see all of the free resources I offer to teach my novel

For those of you who are teaching with my TPRS novel, Superburguesas, I have created a set of word clouds to preview each chapter of the book.

Before students read the chapter I like to preview the words, ask them to imagine what may happen in the chapter and use the opportunity to get extra repetitions of words that may not be very high-frequency, but are certainly crucial for reading each chapter.

Click on each picture below to get a large version, which you can either right click to download to your own computer or click again to get the largest resolution available.


Chapter 1
superburguesas cap 1 word cloud

Chapter 2
superburguesas cap 2 word cloud

Chapter 3
superburguesas cap 3 word cloud

Chapter 4
superburguesas cap 4 word cloud

Chapter 5
superburguesas cap 5 word cloud

Chapter 6
superburguesas cap 6 word cloud

Chapter 7
superburguesas cap 7 word cloud

Chapter 8
superburguesas cap 8 word cloud

Chapter 9
superburguesas cap 9 word cloud

Chapter 10
superburguesas cap 10 word cloud

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Orca Soundings: A great series for reluctant readers

A highly-compelling series for heritage speakers classes

el que diran I cannot hold this in much longer: I LOVE this series! Originally created for reluctant readers in English, this series has been beautifully translated to Spanish with a limited vocabulary that nicely bridges between TPRS readers and so-called “authentic” literature. I originally was skeptical because there is nothing particularly latino about these books. Whatever fears I may have had have long been thrown out the window; the themes in these books are so universal to adolescents that they are extremely relevant to my own students. The stories move quickly and the teen problems are realistic. Thus far I have read three of these books and they have all been gripping in their own ways. If you have heritage speakers in your classes who are engaged in an FVR program, include some of these books. I suspect that, like me, you will be back to buy the entire series.

You can find the whole series at the website of Orca Book Publishers.

This is a follow-up of a longer post I wrote last August about building an FVR library for heritage speakers. Click here to read that post.

verdad cuchillo

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Choose your own adventure… readings?

An interactive reading activity

caperucita-en-manhattan2

In Spanish 1 we have been creating multiple variations of Little Red Riding Hood. This Caperucita Roja unit helps prepare my level 1 students to watch El Internado in second semester. I have also been thinking about how to apply the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style of novel to the readings that we do in class. Today I hit upon a wrinkle that just might make this work well. After class, as I was typing up a version of the class story, I thought to include options for students to choose as they read. It looks like this:

sara

While students read in pairs they will circle one of the options. At this point in the semester this reading should be crystal-clear for 80% of my students… this reading serves the purpose of getting additional reps for the remaining 20%. Encountering all of these familiar words in a new context will also increase the processing speed of all students.

The fun, I hope, will happen after they read in pairs. I will give them a few moments to prepare to act out their versions for the class. I will then take the paper and read the version they have created, allowing all students to witness a new version of the story. I expect that in each class there will be students competing to present the “best” version, allowing us to go through variations of the story several times. In that case I could have pairs pair up so that as one pair reads their version of the story, the other pair (unfamiliar with the story) acts it out. In a Spanish 3 class one could do this activity as a mad libs style where students fill in their own blanks.

Click here to download my “Choose Your Own Adventure” reading riffing off of the theme of Caperucita Roja.

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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Free Activities to Accompany Superburguesas

comp qSomebody just bought a class set of my recently published TPRS novel, Superburguesas. I was so excited that I thought to myself: I should do something special to support that teacher! Whoever you are, I hope you are following my blog because I just created a free set of comprehension quizzes for each chapter which you can download by clicking on the links below.

They are short Cierto / Falso quizzes (easy to grade) with one small writing prompt. If you print them double-sided then you will get 6 quizzes per page. I, however, am not going to use them as a graded assessment. Instead I plan on projecting the quizzes against the board after having read the chapter and using them as a launching point to discuss the chapter, circling as necessary to make sure students understood. However you choose to use them, I am very grateful for your support. 🙂

Click here to take a look at the Superburguesas homepage to see all of the free activities that I have posted to help teach my novel. I will be adding more this Autumn.

whiChapter 0
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

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Galeano & May Day

galeano1Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author who had a tremendous impact on how Latin Americans understand history, passed away recently. His book about soccer, El fútbol a sol y sombra, is already on our school´s HL reading list for the IB program. Looking through his writing I found a short piece about US history that I have adapted for my level 3 classes. If you have ever lived abroad you surely have noticed that virtually every other country on Earth observes May Day, in commemoration of an event that is often cited as the birth of the labor movement. When Galeano visited Chicago he found it strange that there was no statue, no plaque, no historical memory at all of the Haymarket Square Riot. This piece, which is very characteristic of his historical writing, is anecdotal and is as much about future possibilities as it is about the past. I think that this is a wonderful introduction to his work for students in the third year of Spanish.

I have added photos and questions on the second side. You might not like the creative response questions, which try to get at the essential theme of the piece. Click here for a .pdf or, in case you want to change anything, click here for a .docx version. I plan on reading the article slowly with my Spanish 3 students on Friday, May 1, which of course is still just a normal school day in the United States.

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Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes

PLEASE READ THIS UPDATED LESSON THAT I PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER, 2016

Introduce students to Gabriel García Márquez´s iconic short story

1. Embedded reading

gabrielgarciamarquezThe purpose of an embedded reading, to my thinking, is to make the reading experience much more enjoyable. We could start straight with the original text and slowly plow through it, but most students experience that as a “difficult” process. The difficulty they experience clouds those moments of exhilaration when a text actually says something novel and interesting. So I think an embedded reading, however simple it may be, should have some kernel of wonderfulness that draws us into why the story is worth reading in the first place.

We teachers know that this story is worth reading for the wonderful language; upper level students should be exposed to Garcia Marquez in the same way that they still read Shakespeare in English class. For most adolescents, however, the entryway into high literature is not language use. My embedded reading succinctly presents themes from the story (hypocrisy, materialism) that interest adolescents. Let´s have those interesting conversations at the beginning of the unit rather than waiting until we have finished reading the text! Later, when we read the final text, it will be fun to point out how these themes are developed and our conversations will easily shift from low-level questions about vocabulary to higher-order thinking requiring analysis of the text. Click here to download a copy of the embedded reading that I created .

I like to spend an entire class period on this first embedded reading and actually have students translate it word for word to make sure that there is absolutely no misunderstandings. There is usually enough time to show them the first ten minutes of Birri´s film (below), but this is also a good time to talk frankly about how religious values in our society are often expressed… or not. I let the kids take the lead on this discussion; you know your district better than I do. Nonetheless this is a topic that many students want to discuss earnestly, if it is presented in a respectful manner.

2. Link to movie for first 10 minutes

10 GabrielI have a copy of the 1988 film adaptation by Fernando Birri, but I only play the first 10 minutes. The film is… how do I say this? It is hard to stomach at times. However the first ten minutes are entirely appropriate for high school and will help students picture the socioeconomic circumstances of the family. Many students, when they hear “beach in the Caribbean”, may not imagine an impoverished shack on a muddy stretch of coastline. Also, be sure to mention that these crabs breathe air and do not live underwater… during the rainy season they really do invade local houses looking for a place that is not inundated. I have recently seen a copy of the film on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pvB7LmFgBAY

3. Lightly-abridged, highly-structured version

Click here to download a copy of the story that I read with my students. I usually photocopy only one page (double-sided) per class period so that we read no more than that in a single class period. If you do it this way then you will have to plan for a minimum of five class periods for reading (including the embedded reading on the first day). This is a story that I read slowly along with students. There are plenty of processing activities built into the text to help them, and I spend the additional time in class with vocabulary reinforcement activities. By the way, if you want to compare my lightly abridged version with the original you can read that by following this link.

4. Teaching vocabulary in context

At the time that I created much of these materials I believed in heavy pre-teaching of vocabulary. I still believe that some strategic pre-teaching of vocabulary can lead to a much more enjoyable reading experience, but I now rely on embedded readings so that the general plot is clear before we read the final version. That is, rather than assigning 30 words to learn before even looking at the text, I have written an embedded reading with only a handful of new words that make sense in context (or that we define as we read it). The new word un estorbo is central to any retelling of this story, so I place it in the first embedded reading. Concrete nouns such as cangrejos, el gallinero and alas are acquired so thoroughly in the first embedded reading that they become the “familiar words” that help students process the final text.

While reading the second version there is a lot of hand-holding. I only read two pages per day because this is a story that we literally read as a whole class experience. Most reading in my class does not happen like this. In general I like even my upper level students to be comfortable enough with any reading to be able to do it on their own. I guess this story is one of the exceptions.

5. Retelling the story with purposegames

Click on image to go straight to the purposegames website
Click on image to go straight to the purposegames website

As a pre-learning strategy, this a waste of time (and in fact I have done action research with my classes and demonstrated that these games are terrible at developing vocabulary… I think the key is that they are words completely out of context without even an audio cue). Almost anything you do in class will lead to better gains in acquisition than bringing kids to a computer lab and having them race the clock trying to match the vocabulary words with the pictures.

Click on image to go straight to the purposegames website
Click on image to go straight to the purposegames website

So why do I include these? I like to project them against the screen in class and use them to prompt retells of parts of the story. Plain and simple, even my own retells will not include so much advanced vocabulary unless I am explicitly reminded to use it.

If you do have a student race the clock, then make sure you choose a superstar and help him/her by describing the pictures. When ANEGADO appears, start talking about all of the water in the street. Some kids really love these games and, as long as they are volunteering rather than obligated to do it, these games can develop strong positive affect in the last five minutes of class. If you are quick and manage to describe the pictures and use the new vocabulary then it might provide good CI for the whole class, but otherwise it is a nice moment for your more competitive students to shine.

6. Crossword puzzles

I used to assign these crossword puzzles as homework (wow what a drag!), but now I use these for the week after reading the story. Students are familiar with the vocabulary and so there is a lot more enjoyment as they delight in refreshing their memories. Come to think of it, that is the appeal of crossword puzzles in real life… not to learn new words but the delight one feels in placing a word that one does not use often. Click here to download a group of three different puzzles … good for crossword races done in pairs as a bell-ringer assignment. I have little llama magnets that I will be giving to the first few pairs to correctly complete the puzzle.

7. Student movie

Can´t get enough of this story? Here is a student film version that my heritage speakers made a few years ago with homemade sock puppets and crayon illustrations. They edited the text to streamline the story, I edited the video and added partial subtitles (with a few mistakes); the entire film lasts less than ten minutes. I like that it is narrated by adolescent native speakers of Spanish.

senor 3

8. Some final assessments

Finally here are two assessments that I have given in the past. This first is a true/false quiz that asks students to replace the incorrect part (if there is one) with a factually correct phrase. The second quiz requires some short answers and has a writing prompt as well.

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En el fondo del caño hay un negrito

A story to read and act out with native speakers, adapting TPRS techniques to heritage speakers classes

The research literature clearly shows that reading fiction is the best way to develop a larger vocabulary, and that compelling reading is far better than dry, academic reading. This classic story by José Luis González is compelling because it is easy to dramatize in class, but will also challenge readers with rich vocabulary. The story is a wonderful launching point to discuss regionalisms and low-value dialects while also exposing students to high-brow literature.

Drawing by Valeria C.
Drawing by Valeria C.

I always start my non-native classes with a presentation of key vocabulary but only recently started doing that in my heritage speakers class. For whatever reason, it took me a long time to recognize that my native-speaking students find the explicit presentation of vocabulary as valuable as my non-native learners. It directs their attention and allows them to perceive some structure in a course that can seem pretty free-flowing at times.

The way I present the vocabulary is a little different, however. Below is the vocabulary list with an example of how I presented the first word (an actual conversation that happened in my class last week as I presented the new vocabulary). The key is that the new phrase is embedded into a meaningful conversation, ideally an interactive conversation but not necessarily one that requires a lot of student output. In fact, one student responded to me in English, one did not respond and the third used short utterances. Nobody used the new vocabulary in their responses, and there was absolutely no effort on my part to obligate them to say the phrases. Not all words lead to laughter, of course, but student interest will be higher if you have thought out your PQA beforehand so that an interesting scene can be built out of thin air using the new word.

se asomó por la ventana: (acting it out) no creo que hay una sola palabra en inglés para describir la idea de asomarse por una ventana. No es solo mirar, se puede mirar por la ventana sin sacar la mitad del cuerpo afuera. Cuando uno se asoma por la ventana, o por una puerta, se queda adentro pero… sacas una parte del cuerpo para que te puedan ver… así (acting again). [Student says] you mean lean out? [I say] Bueno, lean out lleva la idea de que… de que… sí, lean out. (laughter among students, one student smiling feeling really proud of himself). Yo me asomo por la ventana cuando mi esposa sale pero se olvida de algo, el almuerzo por ejemplo, abro la ventana, asomo la cabeza y grito su nombre para que vuelva. Quiero que tenga algo de comer. Otro ejemplo: imaginen ustedes que es de noche… (making eye contact with a student) ¿Por qué te asomarías por la ventana? (she doesn´t answer but after an awkward moment someone else does)[Female student says] Escucho un ruido. [I say] sí, oyes un ruido afuera y quieres saber quién es. Abres la cortina, te asomas por la ventana y allá, debajo… hay un grupo de mariachis. ¡Qué bueno! [Student says] Depende… (students laugh)

el fondo del caño
llegó gateando
la superficie del agua
se incorporó sobre los codos
ella despertó sobresaltada
una mueca
un guarapillo
una zona pantanosa
el arrabal
la popa del bote
una soga larga
no pudo reprimir la risa
el fango
palpando las monedas en el bolsillo

This conversation actually took about 25 minutes. I cannot imagine presenting 15 new words at once to a group of non-heritage speakers, but keep in mind that for most of my students many of these are words that they may have heard before, somewhere, but are not part of their active vocabulary. Also, this is only a first pass; we will be working with these words all week.

After the presentation of new vocabulary we read for fifteen minutes from our independent reading (free reading that has nothing to do with the class reading) and spent the last fifteen minutes of class watching the latest part of El Internado.

drawing by Valeria C.
drawing by Valeria C.

The next day I started with a quick warm-up related to the vocabulary and then passed out a copy of the story (click here to download it) to each student so they could follow along while I read. I have exactly one pupitre in my room which I dragged out to pretend I was the baby looking down at my reflection so that they had a mental image of what was happening in the story. After reading the first four paragraphs I had the students illustrate the first box. Circling around the room while they did it I verified that everyone was understanding the basic set-up of the story. We read the story in one period, including my comments about register and regionalisms while reading the story, and they finished illustrating the story for homework.

On Wednesday (day three of the lesson) we returned to the story through the vocabulary. I still had the vocabulary posted on the board and asked how each word was used in the story, essentially retelling the story. Then, so there is individual accountability, I gave them this cloze activity to complete on their own. There is a space in the middle because I print them double-sided to save paper (so that there are two copies per piece of paper). Wednesdays are an early dismissal day at my school (for staff development), so after finishing we had about 15 minutes left to watch El Internado.

On Thursday we started with 20 minutes of independent reading (pleasure reading from the class library). During the second 20 minutes we completed this activity , first alone, then in pairs and finally going over the hardest parts together as a whole class. The last 15 minutes were once again dedicated to our favorite telenovela.

Finally on Friday we started the class with pleasure reading and, afterwards, I gave a short vocabulary quiz (I said the word orally in Spanish and they had to write a logical sentence using that word; I graded the quiz based mostly on whether they could use the word and took minor points off for spelling). You could, of course, fit a lot more into this unit, but I am happy with our relaxed pace that tries to strike a balance between enjoyable reading and academics.

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Brandon y su gato

More Spanish 1 class stories:

muchacho y su gatoMost of our stories are co-created before doing the reading so that students are familiar with the basic plot before even starting, but occasionally I like to present a story that recycles vocabulary but has not been formally previewed through the story-asking process. After we finish El secreto en la mochila we will do a few days of PQA and movie talk with my eyes on consolidating the words in this very short story. Then they will read and complete the activities to Brandon y su gato completely on their own as an in-class assessment. While the story is short, it does present some problems that I plan on having worked out through PQA beforehand.

Of course, my stories often have bizarre plot elements that reflect the class that I originally wrote it for. In this case you might want to change the ending, or not, but certainly preview before using. Here is a link to download the story if you would like to check it out.

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El secreto en la mochila

This post has a link to a story that I am currently teaching to my level 1 kids… in fact click here to download it  and you can read the description of how I teach this story below if you want. 

I have a lot of fun teaching this story because it is just so easy to dramatize. I start the class taking away a student’s backpack– they are supposed to be against the wall (away from student seats)– so I am always patrolling for students who have hidden their backpacks. Once I find one, or if 327476498there is not one to find then I just grab one from the pile where they are supposed to be, I hold it up and wonder aloud what could possibly be inside the backpack. ¿Qué está en la mochila? It is now November and some kids have the nerve to say something uninspired like “books”… I glare at that lazy answer to shoot them back into Spanish class. ¿Por qué no quiere darme… what does darme mean? GIVE ME they shout because that is one of the foundational verbs that I pound into every lesson. Pero… ¿por qué Tom no quiere darme la mochila? ¿Hay algo… secreto… en la mochila? ¿Hay algo… importante… en la mochila? Hey kid, what does algo mean? And now at the speed of molasses, in a soft whisper: ¿Hay… algo… peligroso en la mochila?  I then hang it against the wall and attach a sign: ¡Cuidado! ¡Peligroso!

We can easily spend most of the class imagining what exactly is in the backpack. ¿Ojos? ¿Cuántos ojos hay? ¿Y de quiénes son? One kid shouts out un elefante and I can’t resist echoing the baby story and asking ¿solo un elefante? Yo puedo poner treinta y cinco elefantes en mi mochila…

The key structure for today is le muestra. I invite the student up on stage and ask if he quiere mostrar lo que tiene en la mochila. Slow, point and pause at the phrases written on the board, ask a third student to translate the question before allowing the first one to answer. Muéstraselo a Drew, pero es un secreto. No se lo muestres a Hannah. I ask someone to translate, being really slow and deliberate. None of my students can produce the verb forms I am using, except the present and preterit, but they all understand through context. I ask them to translate to be sure that they have it. I want them to hear muestr— (in many different verb forms although they will only be answering me in either present or preterit at this point) as many times as I can before I start talking with my student actors. And then I turn to the class and narrate everything… Tom le muestra su secreto a Drew, pero no le muestra nada a Hannah. Hannah, ¿tú quieres que Tom te muestre lo que tiene en la mochila?

After we have le muestra nailed down (could be 10 minutes, or it could be more if the actors get into it) I reveal to the students that no, no hay tres cebras rojas con cabezas pequeñas en la mochila. Es algo peor. I write the words peor=worse down on a side board because I realize I just went out of bounds, then I say es algo malo, muy malo. Es una cosa. They know the word cosa but I write it down anyways, with translation, and say, no, no es una cosa… es la cosa. Then I scribble out the word a and replace it with the. Y la cosa es muy mala. Tiene tres ojos en la frente para ver adelante y tres ojos atrás para ver lo que está detrás. ¿Cuántos ojos tiene la cosa? And yes, they all shouted SEIS because they were watching as I drew la cosa on the board. No tiene una nariz pero sí tiene una boca muy grande… and then I draw a little mouth. ¿Así?, I asked. NO. ¿Así?, I ask after making the tiny mouth just a little bigger, and I keep that up until the mouth takes up most of the monster´s round meatball shape.

We can go on with the description for a good while, but once that begins to lose energy I switch quickly to the horrible teacher who makes Tom put his backpack on the floor. Hay un profesor horrible… terrible. Un profesor que siempre le dice a Tom, Tom… pon tu mochila cerca de la pared. The students smirk because I am the only crazy teacher they know who separates them from their bags. Todos los estudiantes quieren (laser pointer on the word quiere, written on the wall, and my eyes on them to see if anyone still needs to read it off the wall) quieren ser buenos y todos los estudiantes ponen, what does the word ponen mean? Yes, it means put, but who puts? THEY PUT… sí, todos los estudiantes ponen las mochilas cerca de la pared… todos, menos Tom. Tom no quiere poner su mochila cerca de la pared porque Tom tiene la cosa en su mochila. La cosa es su amigo…

As you read the story that my students will read either tomorrow or the next day (  here again is that link to the download  ) you will see where I am going with this story. The horrible teacher wants to make Tom cry by using the things in Tom´s backpack, but Tom just laughs. We can come up with all sorts of things that are in Tom´s bag… today there was a giraffe that the teacher kissed to make Tom jealous (none of that was my idea), but Tom just laughed. Every time Tom takes something out of his bag I try to remember to point out that Tom no le muestra la cosa en la mochila al profesor. After we have practiced enough I will give them the story to read in pairs, but without flipping over the paper. Once everyone feels confident about the story then we will probably do the questions on back as a comprehension quiz.

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Blaine Ray and La Gran Sorpresa

blaine Ray

There is an interesting Blaine Ray story published in his book “Mini-stories for Look, I Can Talk!” about a restaurant that always surprises its customers. He posted a video of himself teaching the story, which you can watch by clicking here .

The first eight and a half minutes of this video is choral translation. I used to not understand why teachers would lead choral translations. It just felt so old school; didn’t I give that all up when I switched to TPRS?! Perhaps, also, the old output teacher in me was thinking, “if they all read aloud, then how am I going to know who actually understands the reading?” As I watch this video now it is clear to me that choral reading is not a gotcha moment for the teacher to catch students… it is a respectful moment that allows students to confirm to themselves that they understand. I tried it in my own classes and realized that students really appreciated it. Better yet, it is a really efficient way to verify meaning. While I do not spend too much time on choral translations, I have come to appreciate them as an early step to developing the processing speed of my students.

In the twelve minutes that follow the choral translation you can see the way Blaine weaves past and present tenses together as he asks questions. He introduces a perfect tense structure and he is working with the word le as well. In these twelve minutes he speaks the most English of the entire class, as he is first introducing and verifying the meaning of these structures. Look how carefully he prods to make sure that the student actors understand exactly what he is saying. He goes into English quickly to correct.

Finally, after having established meaning thoroughly, the last forty minutes of questions have very little English as Blaine keeps playing with the structures until his student actors respond confidently, accurately and without hesitation. There are no brilliant moments of hilarity, and that reassures me. It is very repetitive, and in the end those student actors are responding much faster. In my own practice, when I wonder if the other students are getting something out of being spectators to the live theater that is TPRS, I have everyone complete a ten minute fluency write and inevitably I find that the spectators are acquiring the structures just like the student actors. This method is not about asking kids questions that they cannot answer. It is about getting them to process the target language fast enough to respond like native speakers.

Here is a link if you would like to download my own version of this story , which I just finished reading with my level one students. My students already know the story, but now I need to go back, pull up a few new student actors, and get their processing speed up to somewhere near lightning.

Just to be clear, I have posted my version of Blaine´s copyrighted material with his permission.

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The SSR Handbook (book review)

ssrAfter a summer of reading about reading, my favorite book that I reach for to help me analyze my own SSR program is Janice L. Pilgreen´s The SSR Handbook. It is a quick read that describes eight characteristics of highly successful SSR programs. Much of it feels obvious when reading, but in practice I have found it invaluable to help me assess what is really happening in my own classroom. Part of the reason I think this is so valuable is that SSR is designed to be a long-term project. I cannot give an assessment two weeks in a row to see if my teaching of SSR is having the desired impact; instead I have to follow the research and place a certain amount of trust in the conclusions of experts who have studied SSR.

One of the characteristics of a successful program is student access to a wide variety of appealing books. This tortures me. There are students who have developed such a negative reaction to any reading that it feels financially impossible for me to connect them with the homerun book that will change their life. Proponents of the compelling is enough approach (Krashen) argue that you do not need many books, just the right ones. Easier said than done!

One thing I have noticed, however, is that a bigger library is not a better library. There is something awesome about the first time a kid walks into my classroom, surveys all of the books on the walls, and says with a tinge of excitement: Are those for us? Nonetheless once they get hip deep into the class library they only have so much patience. It is important to be able to identify which books are never being read so that I can exclude them from the library.

Frequent book talks are also essential to make browsing the library more manageable to readers who have not yet developed the habit of glancing through books, reading an odd paragraph, and evaluating them. Even if I were to eventually build the perfect class library, I would still have to actively promote it to my students. Dr. Pilgreen recognizes book talks and other supporting activities as another of the key characteristics of a successful program.

I recommend this book if you are moving towards adding an SSR component to your language class.

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El libro de los americanos desconocidos

americanos2I am still feeling a little devastated after having finished reading this beautiful novel by Cristina Henríquez, the first novel of a group of sixteen that I am reading with a student as part of an independent study project. Okay, perhaps I am feeling a bit manipulated by the highly-emotional sequence in the last part of the novel, but at that point I was too deeply involved to break my pact with the characters. I had to finish reading this! Written in a very easy to read style (the language is never demanding, the author never steps forward to make herself too obvious), this was a good first book. A few times I have caught my student, sitting in the back of my room, engrossed in the book and not even distracted by the TPRS circus.

Knowing that we will be reading Chicano by Richard Vasquez later in the year, this will be a first run through the themes of alienation and belonging that run through literature written by Hispanics in the USA (the novel was originally published in English). These stories so often end tragically, they are so melodramatic, that I have to remind myself that melodrama is a common narrative structure in popular Mexican culture. Perhaps the over-the-top, brown versus white plot elements is helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader. In any case, El libro de los americanos desconocidos does not lead to an overtly political agenda like Chicano did in its day. Tightly wrapped into this novel is a love story that will enchant adolescents. It is a good choice for mature students.

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Palabras que empiezan con H

This post is about convincing heritage speakers that independent reading is important

empieza con H

Yesterday, the second true day of instruction, we started our heritage speakers class looking at the books that we have in our class library. Each student had a book that they inspected for a minute and then took notes about whether they were interested in reading it. After circulating the books for 20 minutes each student had a list of twenty different books with notes about their interest. They passed those interest lists in to me, and I am looking at them to help me make recommendations when needed.

Today we started with ten minutes of silent reading. My heritage class period is normally divided into thirds: one third for reading, one third for either academic instruction or speaking games, and one third in which we dissect the novela that we are watching together. I think it is fair to say that most kids are not sold on the reading yet, but they do politely open the books when asked. While I still have goodwill I need to convince them that silent reading is important!

After reading they completed their reading log entry (you can download my reading log form here). They did not know that there was accountability and some were quickly going back to actually read when I passed out the reading logs. When they finished writing they returned the books and passed in the logs. I read the logs every day after school, take notes on words or phrases that I need to write on the board whenever I use them so they can see the spelling, write comments when needed (not often), and then I stamp the forms so that they can see that I have read them when I give them back the next day. By the end of the week I give a grade based on completion, so the reading log gets kids who missed class to come to a lunchtime reading session before the end of the week.

The academic part of class was supposedly a spelling lesson: the day before we spoke about what they want out of this course and students overwhelmingly said that their spelling was bad. This lesson supposedly was about words that begin with H, but really I want to communicate that the most effective way to develop good spelling skills is not through word lists but rather through extensive reading. Click on the picture above and you’ll see that we brainstormed words that begin with H in the middle board, and words that were suggested but do not begin with H were written out on the side boards. I then asked them how they knew that these words begin with H? Do people ever say “I’d like some horchata with an H”? Of course not. I then suggested that they must have learned to spell all of these words through reading.

I then paraphrased a quote from Krashen, emphasizing that this common sense conclusion that we learn to spell through reading is supported by the research of some very intelligent people. I am going to drive this point home over and over again throughout the next few weeks so that they understand that our independent reading at the beginning of class is doing them a lot of good. Right now they need a reason to read… they want to please me, but I know that the honeymoon phase of the class will end sooner than later. Hopefully by that time I will have convinced them that pleasure reading is important, and with a little luck they’ll be having such a good time with their books that they won’t care!

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No hay ningún gato – Panqueques

ningun gatoA story unit appropriate for level 2 or above that focuses on the word ningún . It includes an illustrated power point story to tell as a whole class activity, a separate short story with comprehension questions that can be read alone or in pairs, and a power point of student-made drawings to prompt a retell of the story.

I find it especially dificult to find enough opportunities to use abstract words like ningún so that my students fully acquire them. I originally made this for my level one classes and we spent most of the week on these stories; in level three I might expect to spend less time, but of course the lesson won´t end until students respond to questions quickly, with confidence and with accuracy.

So how do I determine what is appropriate for each level? Frankly, if it can be made comprehensible and compelling, then it is appropriate. If your level 1 students have been super72fed a present-tense-only diet, then sweet16this unit is not the right first step. For my level one true beginners I start the school year with the super seven in the present tense, but by September I plan on doing retells using past tenses (last year I waited until after Thanksgiving break). Still working primarily with the super seven I will occasionally throw in an expression like como si fuera. My broad goal for the first semester for my level one students is to get them comfortable with natural language (i.e. unsheltered grammar) using the sweet sixteen verbs. This unit would come after that process is complete, sometime in the second semester, or earlier for a level two or three class.

Day 1: No hay ningún gato

Target structure:

ningún…: not a single…

Students expect some PQA  before the story, so I shake it up and we read the story together immediately after establishing meaning with our one target structure. We read this together, slowly, translating everything. Circle every sentence, ask plenty of questions. The pace of reading should be so slow that it is very easy for all students to read.

It is absolutely crucial that you replace the surprise picture at the end of the story with a photo of one of your own students! A quick, badly pasted photo using Paint is fine… in addition to using unicorns I have pasted students photos into cars, castles and once into the mouth of a frog. Click here to download a copy of the power point.

Days 2-4: Panqueques

Target structures

pidió: asked for
como si tuviera: as if he had
olía a: smelled like
ofrecía: offered

We spend a day establishing meaning, PQA and perhaps starting story-asking with the above structures. On the third day we continue story-asking and by the fourth day they are ready to read the story on their own. Click here to download a PDF of the story that they will read on their own afterwards. . I did not try too hard to develop a brand new story for the story-asking sessions, but clearly the main character could go somewhere else, looking for something else. It is a classic Blaine Ray style story; as long as the main character asks for X, and the place smells like X but there was not a single X there, then students should be prepared to read the story on their own.

A variation: last year we story-asked enough that I was confident that students could read the story on their own. On the fourth (or maybe fifth) day I gave them the story to read silently, answered questions in a whole group format afterwards, and only after the question period did I allow them to turn over the sheet and complete the questions on the back as an exam grade. The drawing section on front was to keep my itchy fast-processors busy while my slow-processors finished reading the story.

The following week: As a warm-up activity during the following week I present this power point and have students retell the previous week´s story in pairs . Of course, you could insert this earlier into the unit, but I like presenting this on the following week to encourage long-term retention of the structures.

Forever afterwards: After this unit whenever I am circling the basic facts of a new story and I ask a question that prompts a negative answer, such as Was there an elephant in the room?, after they all say no I respond by saying, Correcto, no había ningún elefante. And just for good measure, I´ll ask one of my weaker students to translate the phrase. If it was fully acquired, then this is not a question for the superstars.

This, I think, is one of the basic paradigm shifts that a beginning TPRS teacher must face. As a legacy methods teacher I would tell myself, gosh, my students won´t remember vocabulary from two or three units ago. As a TPRS teacher, the target structures should be burned permanently onto the hard-disk of student´s memory. If target structures are not so useful to bring back frequently in class, maybe they should not be target structures.

Carrie Toth recently published a blog post about backward planning with a more nuanced presentation of planning for enduring understanding…  click here to check it out.

The story Panqueques was inspired by an original Blaine Ray story. The story No hay ningún gato was inspired by Taylor T., one of my students who helped brainstorm the idea. I am still looking for a movie talk to complete this unit.

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Recent acquisitions for heritage speakers

Here are some of the most recent books that I have acquired for the heritage speakers section of my classroom library. While my non-native speakers limit themselves mostly to the leveled readers published by TPRS Publishing (and those are great), finding the right pleasure reading book for my heritage speakers can be difficult. The last books, the series by Amanda Hocking, were bought last Spring and they were a HUGE hit. Neil Gaiman´s graphic novel Coraline was so popular that it was promptly stolen, so I am looking for a replacement. If you buy pleasure reading for heritage speakers, tell me what has been successful in your class!

recent books

 

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Review of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

“…Donalyn Miller has solved one of the central problems in language education.” —Stephen Krashen

book whisperer2This review is not exactly timely given that the author of this best-selling book, published in 2009, has already published a follow-up titled Reading in the Wild. I just got around to reading The Book Whisperer and, judging by the amount of requests I see on twitter for teachers guides to TPRS novels, I suspect I am not the only one who unwisely relegated this title to the “someday, if I have time” book pile. Although Miller writes from the perspective of a reading teacher, there is a lot here that should inform the practices of TPRS teachers who believe that reading is an essential part of second language acquisition.

More Reading, or Less Reading?

One point of particuar interest to TPRS teachers is Miller´s critique of reading whole class novels (that is, everyone reads the same novel together). Perhaps TPRS teachers who choose to teach whole class novel units (often structured by teachers guides) fear that the novel will not be comprehensible to students without their guidance. That is, in order to read a novel that is above their students reading ability, teachers are dramatically decreasing the time available to read in class.

Let´s look at the high end of the spectrum: some TPRS teachers read as many as four separate novels in the course of a school year. I suspect it is more common to read one or two novels, along with a good many short class stories. Four novels is an astounding amount if your frame of reference mandates that much of the novel be read aloud together in class, that there be projects, book reports, acting out of crucial scenes, small and large group discussions, map lessons, cultural explanations and all of the non-reading activities designed to support the reader in making meaning of the text. Four novels is not that many, however, if the students are simply reading highly comprehensible texts for pleasure.

Miller´s point is that the circus of lovingly-prepared units limits time for actual reading. Actual reading is what accounts for the incredible gains in language acquisition, not the skill-building activities surrounding the reading. Why not let students choose twenty easy, interesting books to read independently? Why trade the experience of reading twenty books for the experience of dragging the entire class lockstep through four novels that are not truly comprehensible without the help (and distraction) of a multitude of non-reading activities?

Let me be clear: I am not rejecting the captivating theater-like TPRS techniques. Nor will I be abandoning read alouds, kindergarten day, map or cultural explanations. Much of our reading will continue to be typed up after story-asking because I have experienced the power of 100% CI. However, when it comes to reading novels, I think that the author of The Book Whisperer is exactly right in her critique of teaching one novel at a time to the whole class. Student choice in reading and the ability to abandon a book is central to developing a pleasure reading program… and pleasure reading is essential to (a) developing lifelong reading habits and (b) developing academic reading skills. In my own classes I have found something so remarkably obvious that I will never go back to “the one class novel”: students enjoy reading when they get to choose their book. Forget about the complainers; even the compliant students who always do as asked were happier and read more when they chose their own novels.

The full quote by Stephen Krashen is as follows: “Reading in the Wild, along with the now legendary The Book Whisperer, constitutes the complete guide to creating a stimulating literature program that also gets students excited about pleasure reading, the kind of reading that best prepares students for understanding demanding academic texts. In other words, Donalyn Miller has solved one of the central problems in language education.” —Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus, University of Southern California http://bookwhisperer.com/books/reading-in-the-wild/

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Choose Your Own Adventure for low level FVR readers

chooseLately I have been writing readers for level one, focusing on Terry Waltz´s “super seven verbs”. I have rediscovered a format that works perfectly for level 1: choose your own adventure. Did you read these as a kid? One short action-filled paragraph followed by several choices… “if you want the character to open the door, read page 16”. This format is perfect for the lowest levels for a variety of reasons:

(1) There is an interactive comprehension check on every page as students decide what they want to happen next. Better yet, it is not a dull set of comprehension questions. Instead it is a set of questions that students are intrinsically motivated to understand in order to continue with the reading

(2) The “choose your own adventure” format echoes the process of story-asking, allowing for even more student choice in reading and, potentially, more student buy-in

(3) Since students will all have different experiences with the reading, the format allows students to actively discuss the book without merely summarizing what they have read.

(4) Many choose your own adventure books are written from the perspective of the reader, asking “if YOU want to go to the store, read page 16”. Since the narrator is already speaking directly to the reader whenever the reader is asked to choose a direction for the plot, this format could easily be written to provide a lot of exposure to tú and yo forms.

(5) Writing this kind of novel consists of short paragraphs that move along quickly. Explore one possible outcome and, if that turns out disappointing, go explore another pathway. This is good for reader and writer alike!


Does this sound like a fun summer project?

If you answered YES, then keep reading.
If you answered NO, then click here.

Here is how I am putting together my CYOA novel:
Step 1
First, I start out with a 100 page template, which you can download by clicking here . You will notice that the pages are not in order, but once it is printed out double-sided and folded into a book then all of the pages will be in order.

Step 2
In order to start the novel, find page two in the template document that you just downloaded (above). You will make a text box that you will anchor in place so that it will not move once you add things to other pages. Here is how you do that with Microsoft Word: Click on INSERT and then SHAPES. Choose the rectangle under the RECTANGLES or BASIC SHAPES tab:
choose a shape

Step 3
Draw the rectangle on page 2 (leaving a good inch for the side margin). Right click on the edge of the shape and click on FORMAT SHAPE:
format the shape

Step 4
Click on FILL and choose NO FILL. Click on LINE COLOR and choose NO COLOR:
no fill no line

Step 5
Right click on the edge of the rectangle again and choose WRAP TEXT. Click on BEHIND TEXT so that your text box will not move, even when you add other text boxes. Change the font within the text box to black (the default is white). Once this is done (but before you start writing), RIGHT CLICK and COPY the text box so that you can just copy it onto other pages rather than making a new text box for each page.
anchor behind text

Step 6
I have been splitting the page into thirds: a section for the story, a section for the choices, and a bottom section for words that I will define. You will notice that I write X in place of page numbers until I have written that particular plot line:
page 2

Step 7
Then I scroll down to page 17, paste the empty text box that I copied in step 5 onto the page, and continue the plot line:
page 17

Do not worry about making each plot line equal in length… just pursue the idea until it is no longer interesting and end it quickly before it begins to die. It is better to leave your readers wanting more than thinking, gosh, that went on for too long!

Once you finish your novel please submit it to the cooperative FVR classroom library . We already have two novels published and 6 more on the way; in exchange for your hard work you´ll get a copy of everyone else´s novel.

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Maybe… perhaps… the class novel should die

…that is, die a slow death in intermediate levels to be replaced by self-selected reading.

A provocative title? It expresses some of the surprising conclusions that I am reaching in my intermediate and advanced classes.

books 7 smallThis year I have dedicated a significant amount of class time, and financial resources, to developing a recreational reading program in my intermediate classes. My experiences have prompted me to start a new collaborative project: the creation of an online class library starter kit so that other teachers can discover the power of recreational reading without breaking their budget.

Recreational reading is quite different from the kind of reading where a class is tied, like it or not, to one novel for several weeks. For me, the hallmarks of recreational reading are student choice, little or no assessment and giving students the ability to abandon the reading. That may sound like a recipe for “not much will be learned in that class”… or it very well could turn into a highly differentiated, highly student-centered year with a group of intrinsically-motivated students like no other year before.

Let me be clear; recreational reading is just one strategy in a large bag of tricks. But WOW! In the past I have tied my advanced classes to one novel at a time (or one short story, or one poem), convinced that my students needed me to help them learn to read. And they do need me as we read La ciudad de las bestias in AP. However, before this year I did not sense that my lessons teaching them how to read advanced texts does not make them into readers. It prepares them to confront complex texts, each year more and more difficult. On the other hand pleasure reading, losing yourself in the action of a story and not having to stop to complete a written analysis… that is what hooks a student on reading. This year, rather than just being prepared to read, I feel like many more of my students are leaving as actual bona fide readers… in their second language.

If you are interested in developing a recreational reading program in your class and want a source of simple readers to start your class library, please take a look at the new website for the FVR Classroom Library Starter Kit .

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Una sorpresa: a new week long lesson plan

A single story that I published last year has blossomed into a week long unit with 2 mini-cuentos to prepare students for the full story

kissThe original story that I wrote is about a girl that gives surprising surprises to the boy whose attention she is trying to capture. Her ploys tend to irritate him until finally he is spurred into action and shows up at her house with a surprise of his own. This is one of my stories with enough soul that my students generally enjoy it… if they truly understand it. This year I added some mini-cuentos to the mix to ensure that they have had enough input beforehand to read the final story on their own. The mini-stories are enjoyable in their own right, featuring the improbably named JoJo McFiddle (who refuses to speak Spanish in class) and her smart-as-a-cow classmates, Peter Pugpoodle and Tanya Tingletongue.

The structures involved are advanced structures. The ones in red are being recycled for my classes:

se negó a hacer algo,

ningún,

tan inteligente como,

siguió haciendo algo,

había hecho,

se había puesto,

nunca le había hablado,

le sonrió, and

dejó de hablar,

Day 1: I use  THIS POWER POINT PRESENTATION (CLICK TO DOWNLOAD)  to present the first three structures. The photos are conversation starters, as are the sentence starters. For instance, the part that says se negó a hacer desayuno might prompt me to ask ¿por qué se negó a hacer desayuno?, as if we were story-asking. It might grow into a short, vivid picture depending upon student responses, or it might die out quickly leading to the next situation: se negó a hablar con la madre de su novia. This might lead to PQA, or it might lead to a ridiculous little explanation. Anything is fine as long as we are playing around with the target phrases. Then we follow with THIS MINI-CUENTO (CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE .PDF or click here to download the .docx version) which we read together as a whole class. Today I had my class translate after I read the line to make sure that everyone was following along. The ending of the first mini-cuento is on  THIS POWER POINT (CLICK TO DOWNLOAD)  because it is visual, so make sure you have this ready to go before starting the reading. There is a countdown from 5 to 1: I require that the class suggest 5 possible endings before they see my actual ending. If we have time we complete the questions on the back, but since we did not today I had them complete it as homework.

Day 2: I use  THIS POWER POINT PRESENTATION (CLICK TO DOWNLOAD) to present the second six structures. Once again there are sentence starters to create story images… not exactly full stories (unless they organically grow into stories), often just images that allow us to play with the structures. We might spend the entire class story-asking if we get a spark going, or maybe not. If one class is on fire and the other class is not I might pull out a song, just to keep them in synch, but ideally we will spend the class using these and, possibly, recycling yesterdays structures.

Day 3:  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE SECOND MINI-CUENTO IN .PDF FORMAT or click here to download a .docx version. This continues the plot of JoJo McFiddle and her classmates; having the same characters maintains a nice continuity. I do not have any plan as to what the black cakes were actually made of, so it will be interesting if my students take the lead. I guess my back plan is cucarachas… but I am hoping they will suggest something better. During the second half of class we´ll create cartoons retelling the two stories (uniting the two mini-cuentos into one cartoon).

peter 4

Day 4: Here is the final three structures (although looking at the story you might have to plan on an additional day of teaching structures, depending upon your students prior knowledge). CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE THIRD VOCABULARY POWER POINT . Currently it is a bare-bones list of structures that you might want to fill out. If you do please consider sending your work to me… I am just too tired to get this done now. Maybe next year when I return to this unit again.

Day 5: We have finally made it!  CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A .PDF OF THE FULL STORY or, if you prefer to go through it and make changes to suit your classes, click here for the .docx version. If you did not do the cartoons on day 4 then there is a space for a cartoon on the final story. I think I am going to give this as an independent reading assessment, so I will just have them complete the back. Or perhaps we will read it together, then they´ll complete the back as homework and on Monday I will give them a quick listening comprehension quiz based on the story.

Click on any of the storyboards below to see them full size:

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

H

I

J

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Exploring Bryan Kandel´s reading database

Recently I have been exploring Bryan Kandel´s awesome database of story scripts and readings.

pato 4One of the stories that I adapted for my class is La muñeca mágica, about a girl that asks for a wish from a magic puppet. Even though the structure pedir un deseo does not show up in the story, it was one that my class had worked with while watching El Internado and I was able to recycle it while discussing this story.

For reasons peculiar to my class I changed the puppet into a toad… and I may have made a few other very minor changes. I definitely did NOT change the awesome song, which I sang until my voice went hoarse. I also really appreciated the large amount of dialogue in this story; students had fun acting it out.

Click here for a .pdf  of my copy of the story, which includes pictures of a toad, a duck, and the structures that were new to my students. If you want a copy in .docx to make it easier to adapt then click here .

Click here to download the power point presentation  that I started with before reading the story; although my level one students had heard about arms, lips, hugging and kissing, they had never been exposed to the structure se convirtió en so I wanted to give them a little extra practice before the reading. It was enough for the time being, and I really was interested in recycling pedir deseos as I talked about the story.

Finally, below is a cartoon version created by one of my students for weekend homework. She had the story with her, so it wasn´t a rewrite but rather just another excuse to get students to reread the story. Nonetheless I love when my students put so much effort into the cartoons; the act of deciding what to include and what to cut out required a close reading on her part and I think she did a great job! Click on each picture to get a larger version.

pato1 001 pato 2 001

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On building our own FVR libraries

This post is about developing and sharing resources to enlarge our classroom libraries, with particular emphasis on creating readings for level 1 students. This has been an obsession of mine lately, please read the previous post in this series if you have not yet.

I have been approaching this idea with my classes from a couple of angles.

I have a story framework for students in my Spanish 3 class that they are using to write their own stories. It is working out to be something between an inspired idea and a train wreck… I won’t quite be certain until they are finished.

For my Spanish 1 students, however, I dusted off a story that we told in class last October. I retold the story quickly (it was super easy for them to understand now) and then asked for some background information about the characters. We then added on to the story and, once the creative juices were flowing, we ended the class with a quick write in which students added a new ending. I glanced through their quick writes to get a few ideas and then typed up the newer, longer version of the story. On Tuesday when we get back after the holiday weekend, we are going to read the final version together and they will be given one page to illustrate. I do not imagine many of the FVR books to have illustrations, but this one will.

Today I basically spent my Saturday figuring out a template so that these could be printed out and folded into neat little booklets by anyone. I made a glossary so that everything would be comprehensible. The final story is 610 words long and has a total of 155 unique words (counting verb conjugations as separate words). I will post the final product, as well as the template and instructions, hopefully by next weekend.

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FVR reading journal

Comment Dec 1, 2017: My practice continues to evolve since publishing this post. If you are going to read this, then please also read Struggling to hold students accountable for reading? Thanks!

bitacoraIt is not an assessment, but rather a record to keep track of student reading habits. On the moretprs list there has been quite a bit of conversation about how to run a FVR program. Some argue that there should not be any written work at all attached to the reading (otherwise it would not be pleasure reading). Many teachers feel they need some sort of record; I really like Bryce Hedstrom’s work because it is clear that his “book reports” seek to foster the love of reading and discussion of good books ( follow this link to read a recent blog post of his ).

I do a lot of FVR with my heritage speaker class, and we keep a daily reading journal. In my mind, FVR is the most important thing we do in our heritage speaker classes and I want to communicate that to my students. I teach the lowest level for heritage speakers, who come to the class as reluctant readers and speakers. Nonetheless there is a tremendous range of reading levels. FVR is a great way to differentiate effectively. Here are two student samples. The first is from a student who self-identified as a very low-level reader when she first came to my class five months ago (click on it to enlarge):

student reading 1She is reading TPRS novels designed for non-heritage speakers and her writing gives me a lot of feedback on structures that I will recycle in class (several of my students from this class wrote “cave” instead of “acabé“). She also reads slower than many of her peers; I can see that she reads about 5 pages in 20 minutes, and I know from observation that she is not distracted or staring into space during our reading time. I have no idea what a “normal” reading speed is, and I am pretty certain that I do not care when it comes to this class. What I do care about is that, when I observe her in class, she is engrossed in her reading. She enters the class smiling and goes straight to the class library to grab her current book. She is a success story.

In the same class another student, who self-identified as a non-reader at the beginning of the school year, passed in this response sheet (click to enlarge):

student reading 2She clearly reads with much more ease. She has picked “authentic” literature, meaning novels originally written for native speakers. Even when she takes a break and choses children’s books for the last two days, in her evaluation she identifies the rhyming pattern to be a source of pleasure rather than just saying it was fun to read. Non-reader? I don’t think so. Perhaps she came to this class last August with an affective barrier built up, perhaps she did not want me to judge her, perhaps she purposely portrayed herself as a non-reader to get into an easier class. Whatever the case, at this point (in February) she is challenging herself some of the time with some difficult reading choices, and just enjoying reading easy books at other times. Lots of intelligent, literate adults read books below their reading level for enjoyment. She is another success.

I have an unusually privileged position in my school because I have a full “Spanish for heritage speakers” program, yet I still have such wide variety of skill levels in each level that I have to radically differentiate the reading program in order to effectively meet my student’s needs.

There are students who are not reading. Some of them pass in journals that are complete because they think that filling out the worksheet is all that is required of them. If you adopt a reading log, don’t let it turn into a worksheet! I sit next to students during reading period, reading my own book, and I like to sit strategically. I tell them that their work is to read, filling out the journal is just a reflection of that work but if I watch them in class and they are not reading then the journal means nothing. I separate friends if need be, and I always tells them respectfully that it is because they are not reading. I think that articulating, over and over again, that reading is the most important thing we do strengthens the will of the entire class. We joke, play games, and watch movies during the second half of the class, but the first half of the class is sacrosanct.

I currently do not have my non-heritage speakers record anything… we just read (2-3 times per week, between 10-15 minutes each session). With my non-heritage speakers I also want to communicate that this is an important component of the class; without something being passed back to me I wonder how many students are actually reading for comprehension.

Update May 26, 2014: During the second semester I did require a reading log from my Spanish 3 students (non-native speakers). This was a quick feedback so that I could identify kids who were rebelling against the activity. It also led to accountability; so many kids were being dismissed for sports or extracurricular activities in the middle of the school day (a serious problem in my district) that I needed some mechanism to pull them in during lunch or after school. In the end, this was one of the most successful things I did this year! Read my end of year blog post by clicking here.

Click here to download the form that I currently use .

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El sombrero

Thoroughly updated on February 1, 2015 This post contains a five day lesson for teaching the structure ponerse with clothing as well as with emotions. PQA and class story ideas, a short video for MovieTalk,  a Beyoncé song and two readings, one done in class featuring a popular rapper and the other to be completed as an assessment

niño charroI am in the process of revisiting old lessons and improving them. While I have used this with my level 1 students in second semester, I think most teachers would find it most useful for their level 2 students. I really like the final story: a boy has a Mexican cowboy hat and is known as the most interesting kid in the universe because of the hat. One day he realizes that people don´t even talk to him if he doesn´t have the hat (even though he is in fact the most intelligent boy in the universe)… so he decides to leave the hat at home. He goes to a party and nobody even recognizes him. They talk about him without realizing that he is there. The party girl comes to the party wearing a chef´s hat and he says to her: take it off, take off the hat!

day 1

Target structures for day one:

se pone (se puso) el sombrero

se quita (se quitó) el sombrero

como si fuera

Day 1: The phrases se pone, se quita and como si fuera are written on the center board. We quickly establish meaning (they write the phrases and translations in their notebooks, we act out the first two phrases). We move to a Movietalk activity using a two minute film called el sombrero mágico (click here to see it on youtube) . I will focus on the target structures se pone el sombrero and se quita el sombrero. First time we see the video I narrate what is happening on the screen using the present tense.  Afterwards I use actors to retell the story using past tenses when talking to the class, but verifying in present tense with my student actors. In the second retell I will also use a paper hat cut-out that we will use como si fuera el sombrero mágico. Note that I am being careful not to use the conditional; I am just using the phrase como si fuera. I will frankly look at my class and whisper something like this:  

Tengo un secreto… ¿tengo un sombrero mágico de verdad? No, la verdad: (holding up the paper hat) no es un sombrero mágico. Shhh, es mi secreto. El sombrero mágico del video es verde. Yo no tengo un sombrero mágico. Yo tengo un sombrero de papel blanco. PERO vamos a actuar como si fuera (point at board and pause) un sombrero mágico. (I then write the phrase actuar=to acton the out of bounds whiteboard). Vamos a actuar (point and pause) como si fuera (point and pause) un sombrero mágico. ¿Es un sombrero mágico? No, claro que no… ¿de qué color es el sombrero mágico? (Class answers verde or we keep circling that fact until they do) ¿El sombrero mágico es blanco? No, pero vamos a actuar… (hands open awaiting answer). No le vamos a decir nada al señor León (pulling out my lion puppet), porque es un secreto.

Now we have a character with whom we can discuss the magic hat, and I will keep putting the lion in his box whenever I tell the class that the hat is not magic, while giggling in conspiracy with the class whenever we tell the lion that it is in fact a magic hat. We can also put on the magic hat and take it off multiple times. And of course, while the lion is not from the USA (he is African of course), he always talks como si fuera estadounidense. I wonder if I can find a cowboy hat to bring in as a prop…

Like most TPRS teachers, I often interrupt MovieTalk and class stories whenever I have a chance to recycle structures with PQA. Students often think that they are hijacking the lesson (which they love) when, in the middle of a story, we start talking about them. Here are a few PQA moments that I plan to include on this day:

¿Te gusta cuando el señor Peto se quita los zapatos en clase? (They tend to freak out when I do that). ¿No te gusta? Pero… ayer me quité los zapatos. ¿No te gustó? ¿Querías vomitar? ¿Cuántos estudiantes querían vomitar ayer cuando me quité los zapatos? ¿Puedo quitarme los zapatos ahora?

At the end of class I ask the class if Beyoncé ¿es una chica o chico? Then I play just the beginning of Beyoncé’s song Si yo fuera chico… just enough to get them to hear the phrase si fuera in a familiar song. The video that I use does not have images, just the words, and we do not hear more than the first few lines.

day 2

Day 2: UPDATED JANUARY 27, 2015
My colleague Tammy Cullen made a power point presentation to provide some photos while she does PQA for the structure se pone + emotion. I used it all day today and did not manage to actually get to the last slide in any of my classes… lots of opportunities to personalize!

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day 3

Day 3: Class story adding se pone triste, someone yelling ¡quítatelo!

In the center board I now have the following written as target structures:

se pone triste

se pone       se puso       siempre se ponía        ¡póntelo!

se quita      se quitó      siempre se quitaba      ¡quítatelo!

Here is my initial story script; it will change for each class as I ask the story and move from the suggestions that I get from each class. It isn’t the most compelling script I have ever come across, hopefully my students can enliven it a bit. It helps that I have a dinosaur mask to use as a prop.

Había un chico que se llamaba Tom. Tom tenía una amiga que se llamaba Betsy. Un día ellos fueron a Target. En Target había una camiseta con una foto de Justin Timberlake. Betsy le dijo a Tom, ¡Póntela! Tom se puso la camiseta. Era una camiseta muy bonita. Betsy le dijo, ¡Qué guapo eres! Eres casi tan guapo como Justin Timberlake. ¡Casi! Tom se puso triste porque quería ser más guapo que Justin Timberlake. Se quitó la camiseta y la tiró en la cara de Betsy.

Fueron a Walmart. Había una máscara de dinosaurio.  Tom le dijo a Betsy, ¡Póntela! Betsy se puso la máscara. Era una máscara fea. Tom le dijo, ¡Qué guapa eres! Eres tan guapa como Justin Timberlake. Betsy se puso enojada porque a ella le gustaba Justin Timberlake. Se quitó la máscara y la tiró en la cara de Tom.

Ellos fueron a In and Out Burger. Había una hamburguesa. Betsy le dijo, ¡Póntela! Tom se puso la hamburguesa como si fuera un sombrero. Betsy se puso otra hamburguesa. Señor Peto salió del baño y vio a Betsy y Tom. Les dijo ¡Qué tontos son ustedes, no son sombreros, son hamburguesas. Tom y Betsy se pusieron enojados. Se quitaron las hamburguesas y las tiraron en la cara de señor Peto.

day 4

Day 4: Reading as a whole class This year one of my students has tried to bring the Chicago rapper Chief Keef into every story that we have co-created in class. Unfamiliar with his music, I have resisted but this week I finally relented and surprised everyone with a fictional story in which my student´s idol plays a central role. Click here to download the power point of the reading , which is very similar to the story that they will read on day 5. It is only partially complete because I did not have time to add more photos, but in any case I only intended to read parts 1 & 2 with them on day 4 of the lesson so that the ending of the story remains a surprise on day 5.

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day 5

Day 5: Individual reading assessment  CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the reading that they will read individually in class (or click here for the .docx version of the story  in case you want to change anything). There are many questions on the back to verify comprehension. We have prepared a lot for this reading, and their answers will confirm that they not only understood the gist of the story but understood all of the details as well. I tell students to fill out the top (this is not graded but is there to build their confidence while reading) and to save the pictures for last (which is also not graded but is just there to keep the fast processors busy once they have finished the test). There are 43 questions on the back, including some questions for which there are no explicit answers in the text. Yes, I did that on purpose. I count each question as two points and subtract from 100 so that the final grade is the percentage (i.e. lowest possible grade is 12% because there are only 43, not 50 questions). Alternately you can include some of the structures on the front as part of the grade, or you could count the essay question as more than 2 points.

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(Cultural) Product Placement: Arepas

A non-fiction reading, suggestions for introducing cultural products in stories

mola de PanamáThere are so many cultural products that I would like to introduce to my students. I have considered scheduling a once a week “cultural moment” in which we try a bit of the iconic Peruvian drink Inka Kola or I show them a mola that I brought back from Panama. Next week, if I teach this right, we will all become obsessed with arepas. As a language learner a “cultural moment” makes perfect sense to me because I understand that fluency requires cultural and well as grammatical understanding. Nonetheless, for my students it may feel random and add a chaotic rather than unifying vibe to the class. From the student perspective a “cultural moment” runs the risk of lacking a compelling reason for being. Culture should be embedded within my lessons, not a bizarre add-on that interrupts the flow of the lesson.

la-areperia-chipichapeYet I do want my students to develop the kind of depth of knowledge that a “cultural moment” fosters; that is, I want my students to develop more than a passing familiarity with key cultural products. If I were teaching a class of learners who were like me, I might organize a week-long lesson plan dissecting Spanish-language documentaries about Arepas. Fascinating!! While The History Channel is hugely popular among my demographic (40 to 60 year old males) I have to recognize that my preferred approach is not so appealing to many teenagers. I was considering this while watching a Costa Rican television show. The obvious product placement within the sitcom was hilarious. Then I thought about the Spanish program El Internado; next time you watch it count how many times someone delivers a package from Mail Boxes Etc. The magic of product placement within a compelling story makes an unfamiliar product familiar!

Next Monday while co-creating a class story I´ll casually ask what the main character is eating and, after rejecting several responses, I´ll insert the arepa into our story. Es obvio, as Blaine would say. Perhaps I´ll add es una comida de Colombia, but unless my class is super curious I´ll leave it there for the time being. Sure, I´ll circle the word arepa several times and contrast it with hamburguesa and perro caliente, but no further explanations about the cultural significance until the next day when students receive the written version of the story. Within the story I will include an advertisement for an Arepería, including a fake coupon for a free arepa (redeemable only in Colombia, of course). Instead of reading the ad I will apologize to the class and explain, in Spanish of course, that I have enrolled in a google ads campaign in order to raise money for our class library. With a straight face and pushing forward I am confident that many students will not question me. If they do perhaps I´ll tell them that I get a penny per page view, thus my class of 36 just earned me 36 centavos

On Wednesday I´ll find a pretext to add a stock phrase advertising the Brentwood Arepera . With my level three class we have been working with si phrases followed by the imperfect subjunctive and conditional tenses. I´ll point to a picture on the wall and say something like Si yo tuviera una arepera Brentwood, podría hacer arepas aquí en la clase. Once again, apologies, but I get 2 cents every time I say that in class. Circle, circle: ¿Tienes una arepera en la mochila? Clase, Jenny no tiene una arepera en la mochila (¡ay ay ay!) Pero si ella tuviera una arepera…

Thursday I´ll come in with my Brentwood Arepera but no, I will not make arepas in class. Last time I attended a training with Blaine he mentioned that, while storytelling, he has a strong preference towards moving backward in the story because moving forward ends the story. He doesn´t want to end the story, he wants to milk the story of every opportunity for comprehensible input. In the same way, once I make those arepas then the story is over. Pero si yo tuviera Goya ® Masarepa, las haría. ¡Claro que sí!

Friday is Arepa day, and since I took just a few minutes each day to develop their curiosity they are now primed to do the cultural activity that I had originally planned.  Click here to download a .pdf of the reading that they will complete on their own, and click here to see the simple recipe that I follow to make arepas in class. My arepera is fairly slow, so at best I only have time to create two batches. If it is a small class of 24 students I just make one batch of six and cut the arepas into quarters.