Reading Writing

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.


  1. Hi Mike, thank you for sharing all of your work, it is amazing! I teach at a private school and after attending the ACTFL conference in November we have decided to move away from explicitly teaching grammar and move towards using TPRS and CI through authentic resources. I saw on this post that you have a master list of structures that you have to teach in level 3. Did you create your master list? I’m trying to come up with a master list for level 3 but would love to look at someone else’s list to make sure I am on the right track. Is that something you would mind sharing?? Thanks for considering and all of your hard work!

    1. How exciting! Making the transition from explicitly teaching grammar to CI is tough to do in one´s own classroom, coordinating with an entire department must be daunting and exhilarating at the same time.

      Let me tell you a little about our experiences and I´ll send you that list through email, but after reading this you might not want to use it. Before we transitioned to TPRS I had spent some years trying to get our department to favor authentic resources over textbook materials. There were two things always standing in the way: (1) the time it takes to adapt authentic resources to the learners abilities, and (2) teachers felt lost without the structure of a textbook. In order to address the second concern I created lists of essential verbs for each level. The lists were for guiding teachers, not students. I wanted to assuage the fears of conscientious teachers who were afraid that, by abandoning the textbooks, their students would miss out on something important. When I look back at the lists now they seem ridiculous… too long and full of words like afeitarse, words that textbooks tend to prioritize because they add rigor to a thematic unit. Nonetheless this was an important step in the process of liberating our department.

      The most important piece of advice that I learned over the past few years is that, once you get everyone on board to making the transition, give everyone lots of space to develop their skills. Don´t make any finished products yet, no scope and sequence documents, even a simple list can straight-jacket you in ways that you cannot anticipate now.

      Nowadays I prioritize the sixteen crucial verbs that I post on my wall, but I do glance at those lists occasionally when I am brainstorming good ideas for stories. The target vocabulary in my Spanish 3 comes largely from El Internado, which we watch and discuss in very short clips of 2-3 minutes. Lately I have been using a lot of sí clauses as I wonder what Student X would do if she were Character Y from the tv show. As you can see, fully circling those foundational sixteen verbs in a variety of contexts (tenses) can take a significant amount of time… getting my students to be lightning fast processors of the foundational verbs is my first goal nowadays.

      On the other hand, I don´t avoid vocabulary if it is needed to discuss a topic. For instance, the grey whales unit that I have blogged about earlier has quite a bit of very specific vocabulary such as to give birth to, to mate, and mammals. Is the word mamíferos high-frequency? Of course not, but that unit is really empowering to the Spanish 2 and 3 students.

      Good luck and have fun!

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