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How EASY it is to self-publish your CI novel

Let me walk you through the process step by step

I just self-published my fourth book, a translation of my popular novel Superhamburgers into Brazilian Portuguese (I also have translations of Superhamburgers in French & Spanish as well as a collection of essays about teaching Spanish to heritage learners). A fifth book, a graphic novel prequel to Superhamburgers, is on the way and will be published in December. Once you have written a book, formatting it, getting it printed professionally and offering it on Amazon is a pretty simple process. As I was completing this last book I took a lot of screen shots so that I could walk you through the process.

This post is not about the creative process of writing a CI novel– I will write about that in a later post. The post is simply about the technical side of getting your work published and then offering it to the world without having to market, organize inventory, shipping, returns or any of that business stuff. Being a teacher is enough hassle. Once you have written a text, all you need is a word processing program.

I print my books through a service called Createspace, which is a subsidiary of and therefore makes it very easy to offer published work online. You can set up a free account by following that link– in fact, you can do this whole process for free. I will also show you how to offer your book on Kindle, which is a good deal for both you and your readers.

Step One: Correct the Page Size

Starting from the document in Word: Change the size of the page to 9 x 6 to reflect the size of the page in your published book. Once you do this, then you will not have to worry too much about printing errors because the document on your computer will really mirror exactly what will be printed. A word document normally has a default size of a normal letter-sized piece of paper. In order to change the page size you must first click on “Page Layout”, then “Size” and finally click on the last option, “More Paper Sizes”. A new box will pop up where you can manually change the size of the paper to Width: 6 (inches) and Height: 9 (inches).

Step Two: Get an ISBN Number & create a Copyright page
Logged into the Createspace page you need to fill in the first two pages so that you can get an ISBN number, which you will then copy onto one of the first pages on your book. This is what it looked like for my latest book:

Once you have the ISBN number, you need to create the Copyright page. I usually leave the first printed page blank and then place the Copyright page on the second page of the book. Book Design Made Simple has a good explanation of exactly what you want to include on a Copyright page.

Step Three: Thank those who have reviewed your manuscript

Do not forget this part! I have a native speaker read and comment on everything that I write. Even if you are a native speaker, have someone from a different region read your manuscript. It is easy to find collaborators; just ask on one of the CI Facebook groups. It is always appreciated to send that person free copies of your book once published.

Step Four: Upload the interior manuscript

I recommend that you save your word doc as a .PDF before uploading it. Images and fonts sometimes jump around when it is uploaded as a .docx but in any case you will have the opportunity to preview your files.

Here is an screen shot of what the manuscript preview looks like. As you can see, it automatically flagged one of my images that was slightly placed outside of one of the margins. The previewer is pretty cool; you can flip through your book and get a sense of what it will really look like.

Step Five: A few things to consider adding to your manuscript

As you can see, I like to embed cartoons into my books to help scaffold the reading. Since I do not know the students who will be reading the book, I also like to provide footnotes on any vocabulary or expressions that are not high-frequency. I also like to include a word cloud of the words that appear in each chapter that teachers can use either as an aid in class discussions or to scaffold student retells.

I am also particular about the glossary. Most students are not going to use the glossary (especially if you have footnotes), but those that do use it want to quickly find the word and return to the story. For that reason I go out of my way to add EVERY word, conjugated verbs and obvious cognates included, and also include idiomatic phrases that may be hard for some students to put together. The glossary is without doubt the most annoying part of the book to put together, but if done well it will help readers enjoy the book. I always assume that a student glancing back at the glossary is a struggling reader, so I try to include as much support as possible.

Step Six: Create a cover

The front and back cover is one simple image that wraps around:

You can create the image using a program as simple as Windows Paint (which is what I do). The exact size of the binding (and therefore the image) depends upon the number of pages. Createspace has instructions so that you create the perfect sized cover.

Step Seven: Order a proof copy and approve for printing

I strongly recommend that you order a physical print copy before placing your book on Amazon. It will cost around $2.15. The Amazon page for your book will normally be created within hours of your approval.

Step Eight: Tell us that you have published a book!

I will happily advertise your book on CI-Reading, a blog for indie authors of CI novels. Just contact me with your book information. This is a free service.

I also recommend that you get a blog and post information about your book. It is most effective to post the first two chapters of your novel so that readers can preview your writing style. Here are the first two chapters of my latest novel, in Portuguese.

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Small change, big impact

I am getting great feedback from workshop participants who adopt this tiny tweak.

When you end class with a Write & Discuss activity (which I almost always do), stand in front and physically write on the board rather than projecting the writing from a computer. I know… it is so much more convenient to be able to press save and keep the word document for next class.

However, this is the point in class in which students have received so much input that you can confidently elicit unplanned responses from them. When you are standing in front, you make eye contact. You write one word to start the summary and you scan the class for the next word from a student ready to play the game. W & D is not simply a summarizing activity; a good W & D bounces from student voice to student voice with the teacher merely guiding the written output so that it is correct. A truly great W & D flows in a direction that the teacher may not have anticipated, yet does summarize the conversation that took place in class that day.

From the back or side with the lights dimmed to better see the projected image, a teacher squinting at the keyboard (and eager to sum up the class before the bell rings) will naturally take control of the flow of the text. Students become passive observers of the summary. There is nothing wrong with letting students just read the summary as you create it, but I think it is generally more effective to encourage their natural creativity and playfulness with the language. Not all students are going to speak up, and that is okay. However, I suspect that this more playful approach to W & D helps not only those students who are eager to speak in class, but also scaffolds the writing process for those quiet students who have not begun to produce effortless fluency writes.

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The semester-long research essay

Assigning a huge research paper is not a frumpy, out of date teaching practice. It helps kids learn to think. Here is how I did it with minimum disruption to class:

image in public domain:
image in public domain:

I teach at an IB school. Our language B scores are phenomenal; of all subjects our students get their best IB scores on the Spanish assessments. On the other hand, their scores on the 4000 word research paper that they write independently are spectacularly poor. Kids do not write big research papers these days. I decided to shake that up.

If you are considering assigning some sort of large paper, researched and written in English, on some aspect of Latin America, take a look at my documents below.

Characteristics that made this project successful:

(1) I spent ONE class on this, when we went to the library in February and I showed students how to use the EBSCO academic database. Occasionally I would spend 5 minutes going over expectations, but this was not a significant part of class time. It was a barely perceptible use of class time.

(2) There was a weekly assignment which I graded based on completion. In my grade book I had a category weighted at 12%. Every week I added either 100% or 0%. The final essay is worth very little; it is the process that is valuable.

(3) Students are completely free to choose their topic, as long as it can be researched on the academic database in EBSCO (a database of scholarly and popular articles that my school subscribes to; you might have to tweak this for your school). Many kids do not understand that at first, so work hard to encourage them to find something that interests them. Themes that my students chose after preliminary research included the history of cuy in Peru, religious expression in Puerto Rico, civil war in Guatemala, homosexuality in pre-Colombian societies, women´s rights in El Salvador, folk art associated with Day of the Dead, drug trafficking and its impact on campesinos in Colombia, environmentalism in Costa Rica, Mapuche resistance to Spanish and Chilean cultures and the oil industry in Ecuador. I never would have guessed that students would choose such topics, but with enough structured preliminary research they rose to the challenge and I saw a part of their intellectual personalities that I normally do not get to glimpse.

(4) Students will try to shortchange the process thinking that the final product is the reason we do this. Be sure to grade each step in the process and glance through what they pass in to make sure they are really engaging. Assessing the process will go far to prevent much plagiarism. Also, a quick expression of interest in their work in February will keep them on track. Finally use a service like

Click here to download the semester project outline that I gave them last year. Next time I will have them find their initial “preliminary research” book over Winter break rather than start in January since many needed a full month to get their hands on a book. I also attached this packet written by the Academic Support Center at American University to provide details on each step.

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Your heritage speaking students think you are weird

Advice for teachers new to teaching heritage speakers

Imagine being an American high school student placed in a basic literacy class. You need this class. Perhaps you are aware that your writing is full of errors. You may even recognize that this could be good for you. However, there is one major problem: your teacher is British. how brit sound to americans Nobody in your world speaks like her, not even educated adults. Sometimes you do not even understand her! A kind and progressive educator, she never corrects your dialect, but there it is every time she opens her mouth. Would you imitate her? Would you try to figure out which part of her speech to imitate and which part to discard? Or would it just be way too weird?

Unless you share the cultural background of your students, you are weird to them. Probably very weird.

It is my own voice, my own dialect, that dominates my classroom. Even when working with authentic resources, it is my voice that scaffolds materials used in class. One quick & rough way that I assess literacy on the very first day of school is simply by observing the eyes that glass over the moment I start speaking Spanish. The top third often can adjust, whereas the least literate third of my class often shut down when first confronted with a different dialect. I suspect that this is not limited to non-heritage speaking teachers; I have a Salvadorian friend who once told me that his first week on a scholarship in Spain was immersed in depression because he could not understand his professors. You could try adapting your dialect to your target population, but if you are a Spanish teacher you will quickly see how futile that can be. While most of my heritage speaking students are Mexican-Americans, this year I also have kids in my class whose families come from Peru, Guatemala, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Argentina, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. Even the kids from Southern Mexico sound weird to the kids from the North! There is a reason why they hesitate to speak Spanish among themselves until they have developed solid friendships. To put it bluntly, you simply have to prepare to be the Brit teaching American English.

One way to prepare is to plan on using a lot more scaffolding than you think they need. Don´t be bullied by the top third of the class who forcefully indicate that they understand. Watch for glassy eyes and antisocial behavior. Those are signs that the student is lost, or has been lost for years. Be clear that every student is going to earn a good grade in your class. Not “can earn” a good grade; is going to earn a good grade. My experience with heritage learners of Spanish is that they bond and will eventually react positively to community goals. State that goal from the very beginning, and repeat it as you stop the lesson to make a graphic organizer to explain an authentic resource. Repeat it as you write what you just said on the board because you want everyone to observe the spelling. Repeat it whenever a student is tuning you out.

Heritage learners also need to hear a huge variety of dialects, but forcing that on them is a hard sell. Some of my heritage learners are so deeply immersed in a relatively homogeneous community that they do not differentiate between what is regional dialect and what will be widely understood universally. The idea that eventually, for example in college, they will need to be able to communicate with people from many regions is rarely a convincing approach. Too far away. Students need to be interested in hearing a different dialect now. That is why we start the year watching El Internado and not El señor de los cielos. Students need to feel that people they know, not just their teacher, speak different dialects of Spanish.

My main strategy is to explicitly and repeatedly invite them to join a larger community of Spanish speakers. Soon after they become addicted to El Internado I begin to introduce other videos and audios that expand upon the dialects (and registers) that they have been hearing. Enlarging their language community through reading and videos is the only way I manage to address the issue without communicating inappropriate value judgments about their language. As Jody Noble pointed out recently on a facebook discussion, the identities of heritage learners are often wrapped up in their language. For adolescents with few secure anchors (feeling like outcasts both here and in the country of their parents), their language will not change until they want it to change. Here are some sources I use to help expand my students´ language community:

Sources for human interest stories (videos and audios)

(1) Radio Ambulante is kind of like the NPR radio program This American Life, but in Spanish and focusing on Latin Americans. Lots of interesting episodes; my favorites include El náufrago and Instrumentos de guerra. Barbara Davis has a collection of processing worksheets on her TpT store that accompany some of the episodes. They ask students to focus on specific details while listening and are great for post-listening discussion. I do not collect these as a grade; instead we use them as a framework for listening & discussion, often followed by a quick write that I do collect and grade.

(2) AJ+ español has a small but very interesting collection of Spanish language videos supported with Spanish subtitles. I have used them in my advanced non-heritage learners classes as well; my favorites include La Cholita Luchadora de Bolivia and La Velocista Ciega.

(3) Although the language in the articles at Veinte Mundos tends to be too advanced for my students I often peruse their articles for human interest stories. They often come with a short video, or a quick google search will uncover a video related to the subject of the article. So many interesting pieces; students have enjoyed learning about Biblioburro, La Música que sale del basurero, and Ecobici.

(4) Azteca noticias has a recurring part of their broadcast called El Otro México which focuses on some aspect of the Mexican experience. Check out this one on el oficio del afilador. A simple google search for “el otro México tv azteca” will turn up lots of 5-6 minute videos. While I love watching these, I have a harder time making a graphic organizer on the fly for these. Perhaps that is a project for the future…

(5) I always get a lot of mileage from these short, pleasing videos called 6 grados de separación. Each video traces the cultural appropriations that have led to objects and practices that are considered typically Mexican, such as horchata, rebozos and La Virgen de Guadalupe. The graphic organizer is easy: print off a blank world map and have students fill it in as you watch. Since this goes fast we watch it once without writing, and then again stopping at each spot to give students time to write notes and help them find the right place on the world map. You can find a list of all of the videos here, where I blogged about using these videos with non-heritage speakers.

(6) I use RTVE sparingly because if I am going to make lesson plans around a video I want to be able to download the video to my computer and be sure that the video will be available in the future. Sometimes I can manage to download a news item from RTVE, but it is hit and miss. Nonetheless I do like to occasionally show the first ten minutes of one of their documentaries, which will often take us twenty or more minutes to actually watch because these tend to be more challenging for my students. Every thirty seconds or so I will stop it to check for understanding. If the video does not work, sometimes you can find it on youtube.

Please feel free to recommend more sources for short human interest stories in audio & video. I have just barely scratched the surface, but while I am sliding down the chute of an academic school year I rarely have time to search the internet for new sources. Having a source that routinely publishes new articles is invaluable!

What about speaking and writing?

I have written so much about reading that you might think that my classes are mostly receptive skills: reading and listening. You would be correct. Or rather, the writing they do is to verify their comprehension and work out the ideas that they are processing. I rarely comment on spelling, word choice, grammar, sentence structure or anything that is not connected to understanding the message that they are trying to communicate. I am convinced that students learn to write by reading, although there are good reasons to do some writing with your heritage learners especially if the input was challenging (read pages 30-32 of that paper closely). I also believe that they learn to speak by listening. Although there is speaking in my classes, there are even stronger reasons never to insist on it.

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How is that TPRS working out?

Comparing writing samples of level 1 and level 3 students taught entirely through TPRS and TCI

Last Friday, after watching a portion of episode 2 of the Spanish telenovela El Internado, my Spanish 1 students wrote a 10 minute speed write describing what they understood. My level 3 students, on the other hand, passed in their reading journals which they complete after reading in class (they return the reading journals to me every day so that I know they are only writing spontaneously in class and not looking words up after class). Spanish 3 journal entries are also speed writes, roughly fives minutes each time without using resources. Here are some writing samples by non-native, non-heritage speakers only.

I am going to start with the high fliers. The first writing sample is by a level 1 kid, Zach, who would be spectacular regardless of who taught him. Note how complex his sentence structure is… all he has to do is listen to me and he soaks it right up. Interestingly, Zack is a student in my “difficult class”. Difficult keeping them all interested in the story, difficult in the sense that I have to go a lot slower than other classes, difficult asking a story while requiring appropriate responses. That we go slower and do not do as many stories or movie talks as the other sections seems to have no impact on Zack´s development.

Click on photo to get a bigger, more readable version
Click on photo to get a bigger, more readable version

By the time Zach gets to Spanish 3 he will probably be like Alex, who is currently reading the Spanish translation of The Host. My Spanish 3 kids choose their reading freely; there is no reward for choosing a difficult novel and no shame imposed on those that are reading Pobre Ana. It is interesting to see what Alex is acquiring… for instance, I have never focused on the phrase así que (I cannot even remembering consciously using it in class).

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The next pair are by “silent” students. Nobody in class knows that Kinidee is a superstar because she is so shy, but look at her writing:

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The Spanish 3 student who wrote the following is not as expressive as Kinidee, but just as quiet in class. I used to worry that I was not giving enough individual feedback to the quiet students (I rarely correct grammar on written work, mostly only if requested by a student). Yet this quiet student has developed quite fine simply by listening to a lot of CI:

Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.
Click on image to get a bigger, more readable version.

The Spanish 1 students who are less-expressive and have more errors in their writing are still comprehensible. What I see in many of the average writing samples are problems with gender and number, confusion over ser and estar, and a heavy reliance on third person verb forms. Here are two examples from the lower end of the spectrum:

Click for a bigger image
Click for a bigger image

Don´t you love the way she included the reaction of the class in her description? Nobody else thought to include that, but it is true… we all smiled during that scene!

Click for a bigger image
Click for a bigger image

The interesting thing is that I am fairly certain that these two students would have failed my class prior to TPRS. Or more exactly, I would have failed them. With TPRS both are writing pertinent comments after watching and discussing a clip of an authentic Spanish-speaking telenovela. How crazy is that!!

Here are examples of average work in my Spanish 3 class. Student errors are not as clearly patterned as the Spanish 1 students. On one hand, after three years of hearing a lot of comprehensible input, everyone can rely on their feeling for the language. Trouble happens when they use the conditional or the subjunctive. All of my colleagues still shelter grammar so, with the exception of the few students that had me as a Spanish 1 teacher, they are hearing the subjunctive for the first time when they meet me:

Click for large image
Click for large image

Click here for a larger image
Click here for a larger image

My take home point is to not worry too much about the mistakes that exist in the Spanish 1 writing samples. Seriously, it works itself out.

Click for a bigger image
Click for a bigger image
Click on image for a bigger version
Click on image for a bigger version
Click on image for a bigger version
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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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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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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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My favorite blog post that I wrote in 2013

Here is my favorite post that I wrote in 2013. I had not been blogging for very long, so perhaps you haven´t seen it yet…  

yougetoutwhatyouputinIt is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but  HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.

(note added in December, 2013: you can see the entire whale lesson that Kylnn was writing about by clicking HERE )

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¿Con qué sueñan los peces?

This reading accompanies episode 7 of El Internado (originally aired as episode 1 of season 2).

Target phrase: consiguieron

fishThis short reading was prompted by the scene in which Paula discovers that her fish has died. Believing that it is merely taking a siesta, Evelyn suggests that the fish is dreaming… to which Paula asks, “¿Con qué sueñan los peces?”

I have taken this scene and created a one page story about a group of scientists in the near future who are preoccupied with this very question. The story is designed to be read at home (with difficult words defined in footnotes). There are comprehension questions, open-ended personal questions and a rubric to encourage detailed, creative student responses. The verb conseguir shows up in various forms eight times; it is assumed that usage of conseguir was the object of classroom discussion before assigning this as homework. Alternatively the story could be read in class and the usage of the verb conseguir could be a focal point of discussion.

Click here to download the reading , which is in .docx format so that you can modify anything to better suit your classroom.

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Experiencing los hipopótamos colombianos with level 3

54101194283378668127593My Spanish 3 class just finished a week of non-fiction storytelling about the hippopotamuses that were living in the wild in a region of Colombia. The strange story of how a large African animal invaded an ecosystem thousands of miles away allowed us to take our discussions in several directions:  we spoke about science, of course, drug trafficking, we contrasted the worldview of campesinos versus city dwellers and ended our exploration discussing the role of government in protecting citizens. What an interdisciplinary lesson!

The centerpiece of this unit was an article published by Veinte Mundos. I really like what Veinte Mundos is doing for advanced students, but my students need a lot more structure in order to make sense of the articles on their website. Here is my lesson, with links to their original resources as well as my own.

Day 1: prior knowledge

imagesJust like the unit on ballenas that I published last year, I like to start this unit with imagesCAX6QP4Sa brainstorming session in small groups to establish everything that we happen to already know about hippopotamuses. Depending upon the class this might be greeted with a revelation that they already know quite a bit. untitledAfter five minutes in small groups I draw two columns images2on the board, one labelled La ciencia and the other column labelled su representación en la cultura popular. The first column will eventually include things such as son de África and son mamíferos. Several details will flow from that, so be sure you know how to say they give life birth and the mothers nurse their babies with milk. I avoid technical terms like vivíparos in favor of phrases like las crías nacen vivas.  Click here for a website to review characteristics of mammals in Spanish . The second column is a bit tricky but I think it is useful for high school students to recognize that the representation of an object in popular culture is distinct from their reality, so I showed some pictures like those along the side of this post. My purpose is to elicit the reaction that hippos are often portrayed as lovable, fun animals. It may be surprising to some students that hippos are ferocious man-killers!

Having already read the article that they will read tomorrow I am extremely sensitive to the information that will appear in class tomorrow.  I carefully circle relevant facts so that what may have been the odd bit of trivia known by one student becomes common knowledge (and in Spanish no less).  When I write circle, I mean circle in the specialized jargon of TPRS teachers… not literally circling the words on the whiteboard. If you have not been exposed to this powerful technique then take a look at Martina Bex´s explanations: first a link to her circling worksheet for teachers and second a link to her blog post describing how she introduces vocabulary . While I do not do it exactly as she does, what we do have in common is that presenting the vocabulary phrases is a long process that delivers many repetitions of the target structures in comprehensible utterances so that students develop a natural, automatic response.

Day 2: first exposure to the article

This year I didn´t exactly follow what I wrote above. In fact, I shortchanged day 1, cutting it short and rushing straight into day 2… what a mistake! If they had a full day of preparation with a lot of circling rather than just a fifteen minute brainstorming session then what I am about to describe may have been disconcerting, but it would not have deflated them.

I gave them a copy of the article  (scroll down to the bottom and click on PDF; I cut and paste so that it fits on one piece of paper, double sided). I played the recording provided by Veinte Mundos (downloaded beforehand so that it plays smoothly, it is the MP3 at the bottom of the article) and I asked them to follow along at the speed of the recording. I do this because I need to start preparing them for AP next year, when they´ll hear texts read by native speakers without any preparations.  Once we heard the article I wrote a spider diagram on the board with the name of the article in the middle and the following four topics branching off: en la naturaleza, Pablo Escobar, el peligro, las protestas. In pairs they reread the article and filled in the rest of the graphic organizer, adding at least four points to each branch. I moved around helping individual groups.

Day 3: breaking the article down

The next day students entered the class unsure that they really understood the article (because I did not properly introduce the vocabulary through day 1). To develop their self-confidence I created this vocabulary builder activity which reviews the main points of the article . Students first did it alone, so they could honestly assess their own understanding, and then we reviewed it together. When we reviewed the answers I could sense the tide turning as students felt empowered that they could understand this difficult article.

I now went straight back to the article and started circling the hard parts of the text, clarifying through questions the most dificult sections so that the entire reading became clear as water. Through this process I became aware of some surprising misunderstandings. I had assumed that my students in level three understood who campesinos were; it wasn´t until I was on the back of the reading and asked ¿dónde viven los campesinos? that I realized that I needed to explore the difference between la ciudad y el campo. If I had not maintained my focus on the text I would have missed that opportunity.

Day 4: extending perspectives

6620_109339870068_654880068_2636993_3469554_nI had several video clips to play today which explore different perspectives on the issue. I found it useful to review Martina Bex´s graphic on how to use an authentic source in a CI classroom for ideas of how to work these videos so that students get the most out of the experience. If you take a look at Martina´s handout you´ll know why I only had enough time to analyze two videos. If you do a google video search you´ll find plenty of videos; I settled on these two: Militares asesinan hipopótamos and Manifestación . These two allowed me to explore the government´s responsibility to protect its citizens, the perspective of the campesinos endangered by the hippos and the perspective of city dwellers who came out to protest the killing of the animals.

Day 5: assessment and musical extension

As an assessment I asked them to take out a blank piece of paper and simply write about los hipopótamos en Colombia. I warned them that I was grading based on content; of course being able to understand them is crucial, but as long as I could understand I was looking for as many distinct points as possible. The idea of distinct points encouraged them to consider the variety of perspectives through which we explored this issue.

Here is a copy of the quick-write written by one of my middle of the road students. Plenty of grammar errors, some that would impede communication if the reader were not his teacher:

student work 001

But wow… look at what he can communicate. Seriously, he has plenty to say and remember that this was a quick write. No drafts, no time to go back and review. Ten minutes. And if you are really grammar-obsessed then I want to point out something super-interesting: at the end of the first paragraph he wrote  Pienso que el gobierno mataría los hipopótamos. I never taught the conditional tense. That phrase is not in the article. I must have, at some point, circled some question or comment with the conditional, but none of us were paying attention to the endings. We were paying attention to the meaning of the phrase. That´s language acquisition, occurring because he was following a meaningful conversation. It humbles me to see it happen so naturally.

After students finished their quick-writes I projected a website that I have recently rediscovered (now that youtube is no longer blocked from teacher accounts at my school). We opened up to my favorite Juanes song . The connection is tenuous… Juanes is Colombian. That´s all I needed. A volunteer came up and, after playing the Juanes game on intermediate,  we then discovered that two currently popular songs have versions in Spanish: Titanium David Guetta & Mey and Si yo fuera un chico by Beyoncé.  By the way, I recommend enlarging the computer screen so that you are looking at just lyrics… that way you don´t have to worry about questionable images from a music video. An enjoyable ending to an exciting week in room 804.

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La mujer barbuda (Spanish 3 story)

the_bearded_woman A description of a class story (co-created orally in class through a process of community story-telling) and the reading that follows, with comprehension questions and writing prompts.

The reading that is attached at the end of this post grew out of a class joke, which itself grew from a class story based loosely upon on a real student in class and his attempts to win over his strict history teacher. In our class story, and this reveals how a teenager’s mind works, our student decided to win the heart of his strict history teacher by dating her sobrina. Given that the teacher is Cuban we decided that her sobrina must be named Fidelita and have a large beard, just like her namesake. Today, before giving the reading that follows as homework, I am going to present Jusepe de Ribera’s painting La mujer barbuda which is certainly one of the oddities of Spanish baroque. One of the interesting things about this painting is that the artist treats the subject with dignity, inviting the viewers empathy rather than the mockery that I would expect of a painting about a “freak”. You can read more about the painting by following this link. If you’d rather see a video in Spanish, RTVE used to have an excellent series called Mirar un cuadro, each episode dedicated to one work of art. In the episode dedicated to La mujer barbuda you watch a very brief explanation by an expert, followed by about ten minutes of commentary from a group of adolescents who appear to have been students in an art history class. The Spanish spoken is beautiful… I’d love to figure out how to present this to my AP class but the language is a bit over their heads. Click here for the link.

This reading really has nothing to do with Jusepe de Ribera, except for the appearance of bearded women. It departs from the perspective of my student’s real life girlfriend and the problems that he has supposedly encountered due to all of the chisme surrounding his efforts to do well in history. Structures being recycled in the reading include “no le hace caso“, “las mentiras“, “descubrir“, and “acercarse“. The main target structure is “está harto de” (which is on my master list of structures I must teach this year), while inevitable new words that help the story are “chismosa” and “la mujer barbuda“. You’ll also notice that I am highlighting use of subjunctive with the verb querer. You can download the written story by clicking here (it is in .docx format so that you can change it for your own classes). It also includes several comprehension questions and three short writing prompts.

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Heritage speakers lesson on accentuation, part 2

esdrujulaIn my Spanish 1 for native speakers class we spent a part of last week preparing for this lesson by teaching students to recognize the sílaba tónica, or the stressed syllable in each word. If you missed it then click here to go back to that lesson .

This week, in addition to silent sustained reading (we read for twenty minutesllana straight today!), we also read a biographical sketch of Simón Bolívar´s life and we discussed the geography of Latin America. Whenever I wrote a new word on the board I tried to remember to ask the class if the word was aguda, llana or esdrújula.

With so much practice I think that they are now ready to learn the basic rules of accentuation, presented on  this beautiful fun sheet that you can download by clicking here  . On the back I left a big space in each box so that they can write down three of their own examples of each type of word.aguda

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Teaching accents to heritage speakers

UPDATED 8/28: I just added a practice activity to do the next day (attached to the end of the post).acento[1]
Part of me DOES NOT CARE about accents. Really, I feel like I’ve got many bigger, more important battles to fight than teaching the rules of accentuation… never mind doing it with traditional grammar terms. My principal goal for my heritage speakers is to develop their love of reading, period. During back to school night I recite Krashen and encourage parents to buy anything that their kids actually want to read. With compelling reading students will correct themselves much more efficiently than I could ever do with explicit instruction.

Having said that, I also need my students to buy into my class. Interestingly enough, my heritage language learners come to class in the first month anxious to “fix” their Spanish. They understand the case for reading, but nothing gets their attention like an old-fashioned lesson on the rules that govern the use of accents. Seriously! If you are a non-heritage speaker teaching a class for heritage speakers then you know how important it is to earn the respect of your students.

So here is a link to the class blog post that my heritage speakers follow on computer day, the day after I have taught them about palabras agudas, llanas (graves) and esdrújulas. We do lots of reading already in the first week, but when they get antsy I pull out this lesson on la sílaba tónica and it mesmorizes them. There are four activities that gently guide them to recognize the syllable with the golpe. Click here to go to these activities.

the next day: In class, as a quick transition activity after free reading we did these practice matching activities: Click here to download the powerpoint. The students used this student answer sheet (click here) to fill in their own answers, adding an element of accountability.

I’ll follow up with additional activities addressing accents as we continue throughout the year.

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¿Qué está debajo de la cama?

Updated June 24, 2016

Thinking about genre when planning class stories

A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.
A still from the short film El monstruo del armario by Pablo Conde.

Students adore a popular sub-genre of horror film called the comedy horror. Horrible, horrible films such as  Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead or the popular Scary Movie franchise (1 through 5, as of this writing). I am not suggesting bringing any of these films into the classroom, but glancing through a Wikipedia page dedicated to this sub-genre certainly fires my inspiration.

Genre is important. If TPRS used to be characterized by silly stories about talking animals, nowadays the various publishers of TPRS readers are offering an interesting selection including teen drama, historical fiction and fantasy. This is beginning to reflect our student´s actual reading preferences.

Genre is clearly important to students when they make their own personal reading choices. As I write my own stories I focus on structures but rarely consider genre. It is like I am writing the same story over and over again: blah blah, wacky detail, blah blah, wacky twist.

The unit that follows is a first attempt at Comedy Horror. The horror is barely evoked through a movie poster, but I am hoping it is enough to add a little something to make this reading interesting. Designed for early in the year, it is also a primer for new students on how to twist a class story… presenting the possibilities of a TPRS story (oh gosh, here come those wacky details again). It eventually becomes an acceptable story, I think, but not before reworking it through several class stories and an experience with movie talk using Pablo Conde´s short film El monstruo del armario.

The lesson

I see my students five days a week for 55 minutes each day. Depending on group this will take between 1-2 weeks.

part 1: introduce vocab, PQA  and create a class story

Each day I introduce 2-3 structures. Some words (vocabulary that is not essential to acquire but necessary to understand in the moment, such as monstruo) are just written up when I first use them. The first day includes the most enduring, essential structures of the unit:

está debajo de la silla – PQA ideas: my classroom is all chairs, no desks, so it is easy to put things under student chairs. I have a lion puppet that will find its way under a chair; all students put their notebooks under their chairs.

puede ser algo bueno/malo

le pregunta

oye un ruido

tiene miedo

Click here to download an awesome cartoon to discuss that appeared in a post on the blog Teaching Comprehensible Input by Erin Bas. I inserted it into a power point so that the reveal is done slowly.

part 2: reading on power point   

Click here to download the power point reading  about a boy named Terry who hears something under his bed. Last year I had difficulty soliciting more than one idea from students while creating a class story, or teaching them to “play the game”. My students did not really get the playful competitive part of playing the game until I appointed a student who would decide whether a certain detail would be included in the story. I am going to teach the phrase  puede ser  early on (as it appears in this story) to help train them in the process of story-asking.

part 3: present the movie poster  

Click on the image to see the full size movie poster
Click on the image to see the full size movie poster

Click on the picture to get the full size version, which you will see is modified from one of the Scream movies to include our character Terry and two repeated phrases from the previous story. A hallmark of Comedy Horror films is to actually scare the audience while, at the same time, mocking the genre. It is time to draw some boundaries. Obviously in my classroom I do not want to scare students, nor do I want to include violent images. This is the point in which I channel Blaine Ray, who famously quips in his workshops: This is MY story!

I decided to use Scream as my model because the poster is immediately recognizable, yet includes no explicit gore or sexual images… kind of rare for a horror film. I want to evoke, not recreate. I now invite students to imagine what will happen in the movie “Grito 6“. Once again, I maintain a very tight control over this conversation.

part 4: movie talk with the short film El monstruo del armario  

Before showing the film I present and circle a few more key words:

dentro del armario

se despierta

Click here to open a window with the short film . The version of the film that I found on youtube has English subtitles, but that should not be of much concern. There is very little dialogue in the first place. Secondly, I am constantly stopping, describing and circling to verify understanding (I actually have a student volunteer be the computer person each day so that I can stand in a central position in the classroom).

part 5: reading   

Click here to download the last reading , which includes questions for assessment and a storyboard for retells. I think I will assign the reading in class as pair work and ask students to complete the storyboard for homework (that way I can photocopy two stories per piece of paper, cutting my photocopying in half). The following class we will use the storyboards for retells, and if I think they can handle it I´ll use the questions as an assessment.

Updated June 24, 2016
part 6: listening

I recorded a very short story (90 seconds) using this vocabulary. Listen to it twice and then play the questions. Be sure to press pause after each question because there is not enough time for students to scribble down their answers. I have a student volunteer do that for me so that I can be standing among students while they complete the quiz.

story: Omar no tiene miedo de nada


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lesson plan: Las ballenas grises


Updated December 2013:  The fabulous Nelly Hughes contributed a new reading about whales in the myths and legends of several different cultures around the world

Common Core standards are asking us to use more non-fiction in our classes, which is fine with me (the allocation of limited resources to big business i.e. extensive testing is another story). I love interdisciplinary units that allow students to demonstrate how they shine in other classes and, given that there are so many cognates when talking about science, this is a lesson that can be comprehensible to lower levels. This lesson may be of particular interest to anyone who lives on the West Coast (extending up to Alaska), or students with an interest in the natural world.

(1) Students identify prior knowledge about whales in small groups using a Venn diagram. This lesson was part of an ongoing unit exploring human interaction with the natural world; we chose to compare and contrast ballenas with murciélagos (both are mammals), but you can compare and contrast whales with humans instead. Once students realized that both are mamíferos then they had plenty to say. As I walked around I wrote cognates and a few key words that they needed on the board.

(2) I PRESENTED THIS POWERPOINT which has an embedded video and plenty of great visuals. If you want the video you’ll have to download it and embed it separately; FOLLOW THIS LINK TO GET THE VIDEO TO EMBED INTO THE POWERPOINT. In order to embed a youtube video into a powerpoint you have to convert it to an .mp4 or .wmv (there are plenty of programs online that will convert it while you download it). My students took notes on the presentation as if we were in an old-school science lecture class. As a science class it may have been lacking, but as a language class there was plenty of comprehensible input and my students really seemed to enjoy the change of pace. BallenasPosterSteps 1 & 2 took one full period, so for homework they made little posters about the grey whales that migrate from Alaska to Baja California. They had to include ten fun facts in Spanish and three illustrations.

(3) As a warm-up the next day to review what we learned in the previous class I had an online game projected for the whole class to seeCLICK HERE TO PLAY THE ONLINE GAME. Students were excited to see who could be the fastest.

(4) Watch  THIS VIDEO   using the Movie Talk method. This step could easily take an entire class period.   Click here if you want to learn more about Movie Talk . Optional step: If you like you can also embed the video into a powerpoint that is timed to caption much of the video and then watch it again either at the end of class or at the beginning of the next period. Students will be AMAZED at how much of the narration that they can now understand. In order to embed a youtube video into a powerpoint you have to convert it to an .mp4 or .wmv (there are plenty of programs online that will convert it while you download it). Once you have the file, embed it into this powerpoint file: rewatch video now with subtitles in ppt.

(5) Quick freewrite (10 minutes). I gave them a writing prompt and they wrote without any resources. At this point we were getting tired of the non-fiction, so my prompt encouraged creativity. I blogged earlier about this and you can see one of my student’s response in THIS BLOG POST.

NEW added December 2013:
(6) Mitos y leyendas: Nelly Hughes created this extension activity (click here to download as a .pdf) that explores myths about whales in various cultures. Her work is fabulous!!!

(7) If you want to add a song to the unit, the Spanish band Duncan Dhu made a rock song about the impact of the whaling industry on whale populations. The chorus of the song is relevant and 100% comprehensible:

y los viejos cuentan

con tristeza

que en el mar

hubo mil ballenas

hoy decenas

y Dios dirá

HERE IS A LINK TO THE VIDEO and, if you choose to embed the video into a powerpoint, here is the powerpoint file with all of the lyrics and timings set-up: LYRICS TO ENTRE SALITRE Y SUDOR .

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You get out what you put in

yougetoutwhatyouputin It is the beginning of March and it is high time to reflect on where we are going in our classes, how far we´ve come and how far we can sail before summer vacation. A bitter colleague recently said to me, “hey, you get out what you put in” to explain the failing students in her classes. It´s the kind of comment that is a cry for help, both for the teacher and her students.

Here is the truth to that comment (a secret that more language teachers need to hear): you DO get out what you put in… you get OUTput if you put in comprehensible INput. This was shockingly revealed to me today as I reviewed the quick writes that Spanish 2 students did in class the other day. We had spent the week talking about whales (a unit that I will post later, once I have fixed a few things). After a few days of non-fiction I gave them a writing prompt (“There was a boy that hid a whale in the bathroom of his house”, but I actually wrote the prompt on the board in Spanish). Take a look at Klynn´s 10 minute quick write:

10 minute quick write 2

I am so incredibly proud of Klynn. Her choice of verb tense is not always accurate… but did I mention that she has been speaking this language for only a year and a half?! Last year “hola” was confusing to her. Look at what she´s doing now!!!

I have met teachers with all sorts of reasons to explain why Comprehensible Input is not right for “their teaching style”. Some don´t like to dance (um, not a required CI skill). Some think it´s too goofy (also not required). Some believe it might be good for younger kids, but not their own students (if this is you then you HAVE TO check out this free sample of the first five pages of one of Bryce Hedstrom´s AP lessons for super-complex structures like “Si yo lo hubiera visto, lo habría ayudado”).  In the past I have even fought back, saying that “in order to learn to write, children must write”, entirely ignoring that what comes out (the writing) is profoundly shaped by what went in beforehand (all of the reading and listening that was comprehensible and interesting enough to grab the attention of the student).

You do get out what you put in.

p.s. Honestly, I do not have a second job in the Bryce Hedstrom sales department, but HERE is the link if you want to purchase the entire lesson from Bryce… scroll down to El cuento trágico de Mark. It is a good one with a lot of instruction on how to teach an advanced class through Comprehensible Input.