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Choose your own adventure… readings?

An interactive reading activity


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


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

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

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

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Un chico que habla demasiado: a story for Spanish 1 and above

habla demasiadoI originally created this blog to share materials that I create for my classes. In that spirit, here is a simple reading that I wrote for the last semester of Spanish 1. The only new word that my students learn from this story is the word demasiado. I love that they are at the point that basically this is just free reading; it is so important that, rather than push forward, we take the time to read and chat using already acquired phrases. It just seems to consolidate everything better in their minds.

I started the class with three structures written on the board:

¡deja de hablar! stop talking!

sigue hablando keeps talking

habla demasiado talks too much

 After establishing meaning I started with a little PQA about strict teachers: ¿Hay profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Looking at one student I asked her: No me digas los nombres, pero… ¿qué enseña el profesor estricto? In a TPRS meet-up group that I attend we were talking about PQA and one of the group members (urg, who was it?!) mentioned that it is so much more engaging when you drill down on one student rather than ask the same question to a handful of students in class. I tried this out, talking just to one student who I know is pretty talkative, and I delved into her story about talking in class. Then I did a quick poll for the whole class: ¿Cuántos de ustedes tienen profesores que gritan deja de hablar en clase? Returning back to the first student, I continued the PQA and easily hit all three phrases multiple times. And, well, of course it was more interesting than simply asking every student in turn a few superficial questions.

The take-home point is that, as obsessed as I am about gaining repetitions, PQA has to be first and foremost a meaningful conversation. Drilling down is a good skill to prevent your PQA from becoming a mechanical exercise. 
*** see note at bottom ***

After the PQA I passed out this story (download the .PDF here or, if you want to make changes, download a .DOCX here). It is about a boy who talks too much whenever he becomes nervous and, through a series of coincidences, he becomes a hero. There are references to the movie Snakes on a Plane as well as the Señor Wooly video about an evil dentist (in my story the kid never stops talking so the dentist cannot torture him). Finally the boy saves the day for president Obama. As it turns out, Obama has a secret fear of public speaking but saves face by the talking kid in the crowd who distracts everyone from a president paralyzed with fear. Hooray!

Like most of my stories, the very top section reviews key vocabulary that they already know… but I review it just in case. I let students read on their own for 15-20 minutes and if they finish early then there is a place for stick figure drawings. Before flipping the sheet to the questions I allow students to ask about phrases that confuse them. Grammar in my classes is unsheltered so many, but not all students, were able to piece together the phrase voy a pedir que salgas. They have seen everything expect for the word salgas, but once I pointed to the word sale on my verb wall they were able to put it together. In a 55 minute class most students finished the comprehension questions on their own and did the personal response questions at home to turn in the following day. A parent contacted me the next day to tell me that she thought my stories are hilarious! 🙂

The following day, after they passed in the completed story, we started with several paired retells. Then we added a few basic details to explain backstories, just as you would with any storyasking activity. When we built up a complex retell students did a five minute quick write including the new details and adding five more of their own choosing.

*** note 9/11/15: as I reread this blog post I realize that the advice to drill down was mentioned by Doug Stone, who was discussing advice given to him by Bryce Hedstrom

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Spanish 1 basic story: cómo hacer amigos

taylor y sus amigas

This is so simple that it might be useful as substitute plans

Here is a very short story that I wrote so that I could focus on the verb hacer for a few days. Look at how many friends Taylor Swift has made! Taylor knows how to make friends…

Conjugations of the verb hacer can be difficult for beginners to hear, so there really is nothing new here for my level 1 students… just a lot more practice of words they have already seen.

Today I spent the day with PQA asking my students what they did over the weekend and what they did over Winter Break.

Tomorrow I will more or less ask the story that you can download here.

On Friday they will read it (I am sure it will be different from the one we actually create as a class story) and, if I feel like they really need to reread it, I may ask them to create a cartoon version of the story over the weekend.

By the way, the story actually has a sweet ending. No vomit, no bathroom humor, no exploding heads. Brains crave novelty, right?

Update February 6, 2015:

Homework for a level one class is tricky; when I assign homework it is almost always reading that they can easily understand. Having students make cartoons from the story is one way to get students to reread the story at home. Here are a few examples of cartoons that students made (at home!) after reading this story. Click on each image to see a full size version, click again to see an enlarged version if you are really curious about details:






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El secreto en la mochila

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Koi-Zora (movie talk for Span 1)

A video suitable for movie talk and a follow-up reading with comprehension and creative response questions

Koi-Zora 2Coming back from Thanksgiving Break next Monday I am going to start using past tenses regularly with my Spanish 1 students. At the beginning of this school year I had not taught level 1 for a few years and I wanted to limit the amount of new structures. After observing Blaine Ray earlier this month and watching videos of other TPRS teachers I started integrating past tenses into my circling in class and realized that it is much more important that my students hear and comprehend a more natural speech rather than a forced version in the present tense. During the next two weeks between now and midterm exam week I am going to focus on circling the principal foundation verbs that I have posted on the wall of my classroom in both present and past tenses. I am going to maintain the focus on meaning and I will not go out of my way to use conjugations that are lesser frequency (i.e. yo quería is higher frequency than quise, and I am not going to bend stories for the purpose of contrasting preterite and imperfect usage).

Starting on Monday I am going to work through this short video called Koi-Zora , combining the movie talk technique of carefully planned narration with questioning student actors à la Blaine Ray. Today I prepared by pre-watching the video and I wrote a script, which served as the basis for the class reading that follows. Also I am going to explain the process to my students: when I speak to my student actors I will use the present tense ( ¿Quieres ir al campo? ), but then speaking to the class I will speak using past tenses ( Sí clase, ella quería ir al campo ). This is going to be a fun activity for the student actor who plays the role of the fish.

Wanting, having and putting are the main foundational verbs that will be used over and over. I will introduce parallel characters in the middle of the movie to emphasize these three verbs so that quería, tenía, ponía and also puso are circled effectively. I am going to use subió instead of fue when she goes to the roof, because it is more natural and they already know subir, and also because there will be better opportunities to really nail fue later. In fact I am going to avoid mentioning that she goes anywhere so that I can simply focus on the four verbs quería, tenía, ponía and puso.

The video clip is only a minute and a half long. Nonetheless, with all of the student actors, the parallel characters, the new verb tenses and slowly pointing and saying the verb each time we say the new tenses, I suspect I will just barely have enough time to complete viewing that clip with my classes on Monday (we have 55 minute classes). On Tuesday we will read the following reading and students will translate it in pairs before we go over it together. Only after that is done will students be allowed to turn the reading over and complete  the questions on their own (which should be easy at that point). Click here to download the .pdf of the reading or, if you want to change it for your class, click here to download the .docx version (which may be oddly formatted because I used text boxes to position the pictures).

If you look at the reading you´ll see that there is quite a bit of vocabulary that will come up in the video that my students don´t yet know. Without the movie I would rewrite the story to make it more comprehensible, but with the movie I have found that I can include a lot of details into my narration and remain comprehensible, as long as the narration clearly refers back to what is projected on the screen. My objective is to teach those four verbs, so I have provided footnotes and embedded photos for the out-of-bounds words contained in the reading.

Even if it is engaging, is this a good idea to include so many out-of-bounds words? Well, first let me clarify that it is always comprehensible (all out-of-bounds words are written on the side boards). My students also know that the target structures are on the center board, and those are the only ones that I want them to write down. Anything else they might acquire is frosting on the cake… but frosting in large quantities is not really that good for you! As I improve my teaching in the years to come I expect to pair down my stories to the essentials so that there will be less out-of-bounds vocabulary, while improving my storytelling skills so that it remains highly engaging.  

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Juliette quiere un coche – Spanish 1 story

tortugaI was absent the other day so I left behind a reading with plenty of review structures and space for students to illustrate the story. The only out of bounds word that I used (unintentionally, of course) was único, which my students figured out on their own. The next day I put the drawings under a document camera, projecting them on a large screen, and students retold the story adding three new details (for instance, one student added Juliette tiene pelo verde). It is exciting that many of my students are already capable of understanding so much at this point in the year.

After the retells I had students do a quick write (trying to write 70 words in 10 minutes); while most were able to coherently retell the basic structure of the story it was useful to recognize the few who could not. Those are the students that I need to pay close attention to as I pace myself to their processing speed. This is just a reminder to myself: the few who can maintain a fast pace may impress me, but with a slow pace the entire class wins the race.    Click here if you´d like to download the reading.

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¿Tienes una mascota? (A no-fail hook for a basic story)

mascota On Monday I started the class writing just the words una mascota: a pet on the board and then asking, ¿Quién tiene una mascota? Taking mental note of the kids who did not raise their hands, I then proceeded to ask each of them, ¿Quieres una mascota? until I came across a student who wanted but did not have a pet. A major tragedy which easily occupied us for the next forty minutes as we imagined what kind of pet the student wanted, why they couldn´t have it, who else in the class had a similar pet, and a fantasy story in which the student managed to get the pet of their dreams.

Even better, it seemed like my classes were right on my level knowing exactly what I was looking for:
student 1: Ella quiere a hippo
profe: ¿un hipopótamo? ¿Wendy quiere un hipopótamo? (write hipopótamo on the board)
student 2: un hipopótamo morado
profe: Wendy, ¿quieres un hipopótamo morado? (pointing to the purple color paper)
profe: Pero, ¿dónde hay hipopótamos morados?
student 3: ¡Yo!
profe: ¿Tienes un hipopótamo morado?
student 3: ¡Sí!

In each class they were fascinated by this basic hook: the imaginary pet. I even decided to teach this lesson with my level 3 class, substituting the structures quería conseguir and necesitaba escoger for the basic level 1 structures (but otherwise allowing students to take control of the narrative).

I followed up the next day with  this story that I wrote (click here to download) , which students read in pairs and then illustrated on their own. A few students told me that they enjoyed the story, which I think is code for they actually understood it. Now I am going to write a follow-up story for the level 3 class…

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el fin del niño malo (Span 3 story)

forestI wrote this story for an intermediate level class (Spanish 3). During PQA and storytelling I use any verb form as it appears naturally. Students have explicitly learned about the present, imperfect and preterit (although not through a traditional grammar approach). They have been exposed to the subjunctive, because it comes up naturally in speech. Last year I didn´t make much of it, but this year I have decided that I will explicitly teach structures with all verb tenses embedded into them.

Structures: (you don´t have to teach them all at once)

no le hace caso: he doesn´t pay attention to her
sin querer: without meaning to, by accident
fíjate donde pisas: watch where you step
se fijó en algo: he took notice of something
pisa algo: he steps on something
las huellas: footsteps, tracks

PQA ideas (all in the tú form, but answers are commented on in 3rd person):

¿Tus padres siempre te hacen caso cuando quieres algo?
¿Qué haces cuando no te hacen caso?
¿Tus amigos te hacen caso cuando tienes un problema?
¿Qué haces cuando alguien no te hace caso?
¿Hay lugares donde quieres que nadie te haga caso?
¿Has pisado una serpiente? ¿un perro durmiendo?
¿Te gusta pisar los pies de los demás?
¿Qué pasa si no te fijas donde pisas?
¿Siempre te fijas en los cambios físicos de los demás estudiantes?
¿Has pisado la mano de alguien sin querer?
¿Qué haces para salir sin dejar una huella? )
(barrer el suelo, borrar las huellas)
¿Por qué querrías salir sin dejar una huella?
¿Dónde miras para buscar las huellas de una persona? )
(el suelo))
¿Dónde es fácil ver las huellas de una persona? )
(la playa)

Class story ideas (if nothing grows naturally out of the PQA process). Replace underlined variables with whatever the class suggests:

Billy es un chico que necesita desoderante. Tiene que cruzar un puente para ir a la tienda de desoderante, pero hay un problema. Hay un hombre loco gritando. Billy no quiere hacerle caso, pero el hombre loco grita mucho. El hombre loco está mojado debajo del puente, como un monstruo. Billy cruza el puente, pero también mira el hombre loco. El hombre loco le grita, «fíjate por donde pisas» pero Billy no le hace caso. Billy no se fija en el hueco grande y, sin querer, se cae al agua. Ahora Billy está debajo del puente, mojado, gritando como un loco.

(this could be repeated having several more students on their way to buy something ridiculous fall through the hole in the bridge because they didn´t watch where they were going).


The story is titled El fin del niño malo. Sometimes we do these at home, sometimes we start them in class. It comes with a list of target structures, boxes for students to make drawings (great for retells later), comprehension questions that mimic a circling session and two open-ended questions for creative expression. When these are passed in as homework I give the students a five question oral quiz; they have to get at least 4 of 5 correct or they do not get credit. I stress that their homework is to know the story, not fill in blanks; otherwise they often will just copy answers from each other. Click here to download the reading

A few days later I open this power point full of pictures that students made to illustrate the story. The pictures are not in order; we use this as a warm-up where students describe what was happening before, during and after each picture. It is a fine refresher so that the structures are reviewed quickly.

Extension ideas:

Juanes has a song about landmines called Fíjate bien (click here to open a page with lyrics and video). A great way to keep things compelling is to vary between goofy and serious subjects. The stanza that repeats throughout the song:

Fíjate bien donde pisas
Fíjate cuando caminas
No vaya ser que una mina
te desbarate los pies

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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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Before starting El Internado: Caperucita Roja

caperucita-rojaMy Spanish 2 students start the school year with a month long unit that culminates in various retellings of the fairy tale Caperucita Roja, or Little Red Riding Hood. I choose this story because it works well to introduce a lot of the vocabulary that students will later need in order to understand El Internado. I also want a familiar tale that we can work with in order to review Spanish 1 and introduce several past tenses. Most importantly I have to explicitly teach my students how a TPRS classroom works. Here is a quick outline of how I do it:

Week one: getting to know students with PQA, setting expectations

Not all teachers in my department are TPRS teachers… so I start with a focus on question words and what Terry Waltz calls the “super seven”:

Volition (“wants to”, “feels like”): quiere

Location (“is at”): está

Existence (“there is”, “there are”): hay

Preference (“likes”): le gusta

Identity (“is”, “am”, “are”): es

Motion (“goes”): va

Possession (“has”): tiene

Story possibilities are virtually limitless once I have verified that the whole class has mastered these six structures.

Week two: more PQA

We keep expanding students´ abilities to work with basic, fundamental structures. Once they have fully acquired the question words and Terry´s super six then we continue with another 10 fundamental structures:  sale de, tiene, hace, se pone triste, puede, le da, le dice, sabe, vuelve, ve. While this should all be review from Spanish 1, there is always a group of students from non-TPRS classes who have “studied these verbs” but can´t use them.  It is worthwhile going slowly and spreading this out to two weeks if necessary.

There is always a school dance on the second Friday of the new school year. I like to capitalize on this by asking a few questions about what is going to happen so that, the following Monday, I can introduce past tenses by asking what happened.  A few common questions: Who is going to the dance?  How are they going to get there?  What are they going to wear?  At what time are they going to be returning home?  I like to tell them that I am going too, with my abuelita who is 153 years old.  This defuses any social tension about the actual dance and allows us to jokingly make a fantasy dance in which we are all going to Disneyland afterwards.

week three: which one of you is Caperucita Roja?

Who went? How did they get there? What did they wear? How did they get home? I always pull an accomplice aside just before the beginning of class and get her to play along with me. Of course, she wore a red cape to the dance. Yes, she walked home, and it was dark. She had to walk through the forest. Did I mention that she lives with her grandmother?  I do not tell them that we are going to learn Little Red Riding Hood; I let them discover it on their own. It is all in past tenses. I often teach iba and fue at the same time (She went home, right? She did not go to McDonald´s, she went home. But class, while she was going home something happened! She was going home through the forest when she met someone…)

Here you can download one of the readings that I wrote for this week. You might want to change the ending if your students have never heard of the verb “to conjugate”. You´ll definitely want to change the underlined place names to reflect where you teach. I also like to change the name of the main character each year to personalize it to a student in one of my classes. Click here for the story: Sara y el lobo version 2

Update Sept 28, 2015: Here is a new activity for reading Sara y el lobo, with an improved reading too.

Students read in pairs in class. For homework they make a six panel illustration of the story with no words, which we use the following class for retells.

In 2014 I used this story within the first month of Spanish 1. Here are two examples made by students (click to see a larger version). The first is by Brenda G.:


Here is another student example, this one by Arielle M:


We also watch a children´s video.  Click here to open a window and see the version that we saw.

week four: some creative reworkings of the classic story

– Caperucita was actually working for the police. They were conducting a sting on suspicious lobos hanging out in the forest…

– As it turns out, the lobo is Caperucita Roja´s real grandmother! Yes, Caperucita´s mother was switched at birth, or stolen by the evil woman that Caperucita always thought was her real grandmother…

– Caperucita lived in Los Angeles. One day she was sitting on the front steps in front of her apartment building (listening to some hip hop) when her mother yelled her name out the window and told her that she had to take the 49 bus over to her grandma´s house to bring her grandma some foot soap. But Caperucita did not take the 49 bus, she decided to cut through the park even though it was getting dark and nobody went into the park after dark…

In the last two weeks I begin introducing Internado structures. We won´t even start viewing the first episode of El Internado until the second quarter (10th week), so I am not in a rush. Where it makes sense I´ll throw a pozo into a story. We have eight weeks. The idea is to slowly, naturally build their vocabulary in a targeted way.

Here you can download the list of structures that I identified for my own students for the first episode.  Your students might need more or less preparation (for instance, I don´t include phrases like “no van a volver” or “ayuda” on this list because generally my new Spanish 2 students have acquired that, but that is verified in class). The bolded structures are ones that I prioritize for acquisition (establish meaning by writing them on the board, circle them and feature them in PQA, sneak them often into class stories as well as the readings that students read on their own, require them on quick writes).  Click here to download the basic structures for episode 1

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My parents embarrass me: a sort of final exam

This is the last short story of the year and focuses on two structures: se ponen en ridículo and le da vergüenza.

embarrassingBefore students read the story I introduced the structures and themes through a full class period of conversation. That included this powerpoint (which you can download by following this link):  vergüenza y ridículo powerpoint .  If you use it  you´ll probably want to remove the reference to Señor Peto in the first slide. I was surprised that none of the students would admit that their parents have ever embarrassed them (of course, they didn´t want me to embarrass them). Since that line of questioning was going nowhere, I changed the phrase to mis padres nunca me dan vergüenza. I suppose the real theme of the day should have been mi profesor de español me da vergüenza as I came up with silly situations that never occur such as Los padres de Julieta nunca besan al perro cuando sus amigas vienen a su casa. ¿Verdad Julieta? Julieta emphatically denied that her parents EVER kiss their dog. «Entonces… ¿ellos no te dan vergüenza?» A few times we came up with weird situations that never happen (I swear!) and it was a compelling enough mental image to make students laugh. When we laugh in Spanish then I know that they are really learning the vocabulary.

The following day students read this story that you can download by following this link: Mis padres se ponen en ridículo: STORY WITH QUESTIONS . I graded their responses to the back side as the last two big grades of the semester, which is pretty much a final exam since I would not actually have the time to evaluate all of those writing samples in the limited final exam period that we have. The reading comprehension questions are designed to assess their understanding of some big picture points, like did they acquire the difference between iba and fue? I graded the second writing section with a more holistic grading rubric emphasizing the comprehensibility of their writing. Superior students should be able to respond with our so-called advanced structures and wow me with their creativity, but fully intelligible, simple answers with minor errors that answer the question easily earn a grade of B.

Next week, following the advice of Blaine Ray, my students will be giving oral presentations on a topic of their choice. Lots of output, but they have been well-prepared (pat myself on the back) and I am certain to enjoy this coming week.

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Una sorpresa: A short story for an intermediate group

pescadoHere is another one of my stories inspired by Anne Matava´s original story scripts. Students read it to themselves (after lots of PQA beforehand); I am particularly proud that in two different classes I heard kids giggling while they read.

Target structures were the phrases ella se negó a decirle & le sonrió

Key recycled structures include: ninguna, dejó de hacer algo, seguía haciendo algo & había hablado/cocinado/hecho/puesto

This story comes with several activities including drawing (good for retells), succinct but effective comprehension questions and writing prompts based on the story that elicit a creative response.

Click the following link to download it and then tell me if you like it: UNA SORPRESA  – READING WITH ACTIVITIES

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My Matava scripts

Three original stories:

Lots of beginning CI teachers use Matava scripts, and for a good reason. Anne Matava wrote two volumes of simple stories in English that lend themselves perfectly to the novice who is first learning how to “ask a story”. If you google “Matava scripts” you´ll find plenty of information on how to craft a story (including this masterful post by Martina Bex) and even this link to purchase them from Ben Slavic´s website.

My modest contribution is linked below, which you can download for free. If you are a Spanish teacher using the Matava scripts you´ll want some sort of reading that recycles the vocabulary to maximize acquisition of target structures. Here are a couple of readings that I made to loosely accompany the scripts. I wrote them for a level 2 class; even without the original Matava scripts they would make great stand-alone homework assignments or emergency substitute plans if you want your students to do more reading. Who doesn´t want more reading?

niño charro

Update January 22, 2014: I updated this first story into a three day lesson with a movietalk, PQA, a class story and a tie in to a Beyoncé song. Click here to see the updated lesson

(A) One of my favorite stories that I have written accompanies the story “Try It On!” (page 13). It is about a smart boy who is known only for his stylish clothing. The story comes with many, many questions repeating target structures (mimicking a session of circling) and space for students to draw pictures (which I used the next day for retells under a document camera). The amount of new vocabulary structures presented is too much if you have just presented the Matava story, but just right if the students are further along. My new target structures were tenía puesto, como si fuera, and se dio cuenta. We were recycling se puso and se quitó. Finally I was able to work a piece of cultural knowledge into this reading as the hat that the boy wears is that of a Mexican charro.  Click here to download Try it on.

(B) This half-page story accompanies “The Baby Story” (page 9) and recycles the vocabulary closely. It also includes questions and space for drawings. I believe I used this in class after asking our own version, but it would work as a homework assignment too. Click here to download The baby story.

(C) My very first attempt at writing a story was supposed to accompany “An Important Test” (page 6), but as I look at this I see that I was mostly responding to the needs of my class and giving them lots of reinforcement of the phrases iba, se dijo and le dijo. It is a good enough story that it made my student Trenton a minor celebrity among my classes. I am leaving all of the files as word documents so that you can change them; you´ll definitely want to change the name of the student, teacher and city to make one of your students famous. It comes with questions and space for pictures. Click here to download Trenton wants to skip class.doc