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.


  1. I wanted to thank you for all your great posts. I also was wondering if you could explain how that yes /no sign works. I made one but I don’t know how to use it. I remember you mentioning it was to get kids to answer chorally but I wasn’t sure how to go about using it.

    Thank you for your time


    Sent from my iPhone

    1. The YES/NO sign is something I use at the beginning of the year to keep fast processors from dominating the answers. I still use it occasionally, but it is a novelty thing that wears off quickly. When kids are racing to answer and I feel like there is a group that needs more time to think then I take out the sign and explain in English why I am using it. I ask a question and hold the NO side forward for a few seconds. Once I turn it to YES everyone answers in chorus. I only do this a couple of times and then ask personal questions to individuals.

      One thing that Carol Gaab does to slow down response rate is ask the question super slowly and, as the fast-processors jump the gun, she modifies the question on the fly so that they are wrong and then humorously comments that they have to wait to hear the whole question. I like this technique because rather than feeling like a technique to control it feels like a game, and in the end is more effective.

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