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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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Earth Day 2016

A few points of departure for discussion in class today:

(1) Ska de la Tierra (song)

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

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

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

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

Now let´s focus on why we love the natural world:
(3) Los 30 lugares más bonitos del mundo

We sat in quiet awe as we watched this video.

(4) Picture talk of some of my vacation photos (Macchu Picchu, Patagonia, Costa Rica, Norway, Hawaii… all beautiful scenes). Lots of CI here!

Lake Elsinore
Lake Elsinore
Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Princeton, NJ
Princeton, NJ
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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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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 .