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Join our project to improve classes for heritage learners!

In June of 2016 a group of CI teachers started a collaborative project. We believed that Spanish teachers are generally not well-trained to teach to the needs of heritage learners. We felt that much of the published material written by academics or textbook companies was not helping our students. Distressingly we have heard about departments who farm out their heritage learners’ classes to the newest, least prepared teachers because these classes tend to be hard to teach. Other departments urge heritage learners to simply abandon their home language in favor of a foreign one. Reaching heritage learners is the pressing but often ignored challenge facing our profession.

We decided to write essays, from the perspective of experienced classroom teachers, describing each facet of our classes. Our hope was to gather so much classroom wisdom in one book that our colleagues would confidently approach their courses with joy. Furthermore, we write as CI teachers who appreciate that the grammar and extensive spelling lessons from the textbooks that infuriate and frustrate our students are rarely appropriate. Too many heritage learners were learning the wrong lesson: that they could never master high-prestige dialects of Spanish, that their own experiences with the language were useless and that the cultural heritage of their ancestors was forever lost.

Our book, Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish: Essays by Classroom Teachers, was published in October 2016 and from the profits we have since donated over 100 reading books to the classroom libraries of teachers. We also have formed a Facebook group, Teachers of Spanish Heritage Speakers, with nearly 400 members.

It is now time to consider putting together a 2nd edition of our book. Working together, so many of us have moved forward and now have a lot more to say. If you are having success teaching a course for heritage learners of Spanish, please consider writing an essay for our next edition.

Currently we have a lengthy description of my reading program and an outline of how I have organized the rest of the class period. There are lots more that can be written about reading programs. If you incorporate reading conferences or have adapted a Lucy Calkins´s style reading workshop, a description of your approach would be great. I plan on writing a new essay about including manga in the classroom library. You could write about comparing typical writing samples before a reading program and several months later… hopefully you already have writing samples saved from the beginning of the year! Perhaps you want to describe a literacy initiative that extends beyond the classroom—bringing kids to the local library and tracking how many continue to use the library afterwards & what you can do to bring those numbers up or even tracking how many books are checked out of your classroom library and what you do to increase that number. There is so much to say about reading; write to me if you have an angle to explore.

I also wrote an essay about my struggle with counselors who would not cooperate in properly placing students. Essays from schools in which the placement system is not dysfunctional would be welcome, or modifications that you have made that work. Every school system is different; recording a diversity of approaches may help teachers problem solve in their own unique situation.

When I consider the main goals that I have developed for my heritage learners classes, I distinguish three objectives: to develop students’ identities as readers, to develop their interest in their heritage and the Spanish-speaking world and to broaden their language community to include many dialects and variations of Spanish. How do you create a compelling language experience for students who have been marginalized and taught that school is anything but compelling? Any of these topics could spawn multiple essays based on your classroom experiences.

I have often thought that the final essay of the collection, Beyond the Classroom by Barbara A. Davis, could inspire a larger examination of how school institutions and Anglo cultural practices can come together to present unnecessary obstacles for heritage speakers. I am sure some of us have observed how our school cultures can simultaneously absorb and repel heritage learners… perhaps ELA teachers may have a sharper focus on this topic.

We also have no essays about school-home interaction. Are there teachers who create community through activities organized through La Sociedad honoraria hispánica, for example? How does that impact enrollment?

There are so many other topics that touch upon the life of a heritage learner of Spanish. If you have a particular insight, please share.

We also welcome thoughtfully developed lesson plans which demonstrate a useful approach to classes for heritage learners.

I believe that the format of the essay lends itself better to deep introspection than the online forums that have emerged. Or rather, it is a question of tactics versus strategy; the online forums address problems as they arise while the essay encourages a more thoughtful approach. If you would like to join our group, please feel free to email your idea for an essay to mikepeto AT gmail DOT com with the phrase “Practical Advice” in the topic.

Thanks,
Mike

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How to add 15 new beginner level texts to your classroom library EVERY WEEK

“Recreational reading is the most powerful tool we have in language education”
-Stephen Krashen, presentation at CCFLT, February 2017

These are the readings we need most for our classes, the easy easy readings that low level readers can read independently. Almost impossible to find. This is how you do it:


Like the idea? Click here to download the template for the pamphlet cartoon stories.

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New book posted on CI-Reading

Subscribe to CI-Reading to get an email each time I discover a new CI-appropriate novel published by an indie author that is not represented on the major TPRS publishers websites & build your FVR library!

This is the post published today on CI-READING:

planeta-zombilandia I have not yet bought this book, but it looks good! This is a Spanish version of a book originally written for an elementary ELL classroom. Here is the description of the original book: “A short and easy captivating mystery reader “Planet Zombieland” designed specifically for beginning English readers, ELD, Adult Ed. and Immersion Students. Incorporates the CCSS’s”. One customer review on Amazon states, “this is easily one of the best Spanish learning books I have ever read to my pupils”.

I will update this post when I get a copy! Click here to purchase on Amazon.

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Students need to browse

Wrapping my mind around the shift from required reading to desirable reading

Some tweaks are “good to implement if you can”. Other tweaks carry the urgency of “absolutely change how you do this right now”. This may not be maximum urgency, but if you have a pleasure reading program then creating a browsing wall with book covers facing outward will noticeably increase the circulation of your books.

When assigning a required reading to a class the main concern of the teacher will inevitably be to assure that the reading is comprehensible to all students. A pleasure reading program introduces a slightly different dynamic: the teacher becomes concerned with connecting each student to the right book, which is both comprehensible and targeted to the interests of the student. If you scoff at the idea that this is even possible in a world language classroom, you need to check out the amazing diversity of well-written, limited vocabulary fiction books now available for language learners!

I estimate that my classroom library has between 1500-2000 books written for beginning language learners all the way through to YA fiction for heritage learners. Last school year, when all of the books were contained beautifully within a few bookcases, I had a hard time getting students to browse the books. Each shelf was labeled according to the topic of the books, but students rarely explored. Despite the book talks and gentle nudging, I rarely managed to get a student to take the time to pull out books and find their dream book.

This year I created a “Books of the week” wall display from which students choose a book for independent reading in class. I rotate a portion of the books each week so that students eventually see the front covers of my entire library. Rather than merely relying on my own knowledge of each student to connect them with an interesting book I have found a way to discretely suggest new genres to all students. This really hit home when one of my stand-offish heritage learner students recently lunged to claim my Spanish edition of the graphic novel Maus. I would have never guessed that he had an interest in WWII.

library-1

On Fridays students place books that are being actively read on a cart so that I am sure to have them available the following week. I still encourage students to browse my bookshelves, but for those students who have not yet learned the pleasure of browsing this is a nice, structured way to introduce them to one of the essential skills of a real reader.

How did I create my little book ledges?

I am lucky that the interior walls of my classroom are made of a material much like a bulletin board. I managed to staple a hand-crafted ledge made of laminated paper sentence strips which you can buy in a teachers supply store. Behind each book is a velcro strip positioned exactly four inches above the ledge, and each book has the opposite side of the velcro strip (again, four inches up). Finally a student in each class has the job of “King/Queen of Books”. Students return the books to that one person who is responsible for placing them on the wall in such a way that they slightly overlap (see the photo below). That way none of the books splay outward, ruining their binding.

If you are just starting a pleasure reading library and are looking for where to find these specialized, limited vocabulary books then check out the following websites: Bryce Hedstrom, TPRS Publishing, Mira Canion, One Good Story, CI Reading, TPRS Books, Fluency Fast, Spanish Cuentos

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Ep 2 Gran Hotel student guide, & more soon!

An alternative to El Internado with far fewer questionable scenes

blog post 3I have something special for those of you using El Gran Hotel in class: not only is the episode 2 student guide being released today, but this and future guides benefit from a fruitful collaboration with the amazing Kara Jacobs. Those who have worked with me know that I work s l o w l y. Kara has added focus to the project, pushing the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. I am really excited to finally have the reading resources I need to make watching El Gran Hotel a super-powered language acquisition activity.

This guide is being released with a three page introduction explaining how I make an authentic novela comprehensible to intermediate students. I have reproduced that introduction in its entirety below, where you can see a sample of our work. Also included in the guide is a cultural note about gender in the early 20th century, a link to a Quizlet Live! game, a crossword puzzle and a cartoon activity that could be used as a substitute plan at any point during the show. You can see all currently available guides for El Gran Hotel by following this link.

Copied below is the introduction to the episode 2 guide.

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Thank you for purchasing this study guide. This is the first fruit from what I hope to be a lengthy collaboration with the incredible Kara Jacobs. I think you will see that Kara´s guidance has pushed the text to be more appropriate for an upper level class while maintaining the elements of simplicity and comprehensibility that make these guides so effective for language learners. You can, of course, use this guide any way you like. However we have a few suggestions on how to make the most of this highly compelling video series. Take a look at this example of a scene from episode 2:

GH ep 2 example

First you will notice that we have numbered the scenes from 1-19 and provide exact Netflix time stamps for each set of scenes. We recommend that you teach one set of scenes at a time, planning on spending anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes on a single set. Or more, if you act out the scenes. When I teach an episode of El Gran Hotel I usually plan on spending the last 20 minutes of class, three or four times per week, so that we progress through the episode slowly.

Before watching a scene, I chose one of the bold-faced expressions within the reading to target so that my students thoroughly acquire it. In the example above I might choose quiere que le dé. Students do not have to have any prior experience with the subjunctive. In fact, do not use this as an opportunity to lecture about the subjunctive or how to conjugate a verb in the subjunctive. Just write the entire phrase on the board with a translation in English and start using the phrase with your class.

It is best to start with easy questions that can be answered with either a sí or no. The goal of these first few minutes is to get your students to process the target phrase quickly, not to get them to actually produce the phrase. I might pick up an apple that I happen to have on my desk and ask a student, ¿quieres una manzana? Regardless of how the student responds, don´t give her the apple! Now there is tension as I hold this apple that the student either wants or does not want. I hold it just out of reach; while staring at the student I ask, “clase, quiere (Student name) que yo le dé… una manzana?” Say the phrase slowly at first, pointing at the board and pausing before completing the question. A Spanish 1 student could answer that question! Modify your questions by using a variety of question words: ¿Quién quiere que yo le dé (point at the board and pause) una manzana? Increase the speed of your speech as students begin to respond with accuracy and without hesitation. ¿Cuál estudiante quiere que yo le dé trescientos manzanas? ¿Por qué Samantha quiere que yo le dé una manzana muy pequeña?

When you change the verb conjugation, casually write it on the board with an English translation. If I asked, ¿Quiero que tú me des un regalo?, then I would write me des on the board. I would probably even ask (in English) “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” Immediately slow down if students show any hesitation or confusion; return back to the board and start again slowly. You will be done when students respond confidently, accurately and without hesitation without looking at the board. Watch their eyes; you will see hesitation in their eyes if they are not ready.

Mike´s comment: I believe that a 3 second question in English calling attention to the way form influences the meaning of a word is a powerful way to teach grammar. “What does the s on the end of the verb mean?” “What does the emos on the end of the verb mean?” “What does aste at the end of the verb mean?” Whether focus on form has any impact on language acquisition is still hotly debated among researchers and denied by some linguists. If you decide to use grammar pop-ups, use them sparingly. Your main goal before viewing the scene is to get your students to process the target structure at the speed of a native speaker, not produce it or analyze it.

You may have noticed that having acquired the bolded target structures are not required to actually read the text provided. You can substitute your own target structure appropriate to your class. Throughout the blog post quote 2series we have written the scene descriptions with high-frequency target structures that are appropriate to what we consider to be level three work. Our experiences, prejudices and biases lead us to emphasize high frequency idioms and a variety of so-called “advanced” verb constructions (such as perfect tenses, subjunctive phrases, future and conditional, si clauses). However the actual text of the scene summary is written in a simpler form to ensure that the text is easy reading for your students. It is supposed to be easy reading; if your students have to struggle to decode the text then you need to spend more time slowly discussing the scene beforehand. After having taught classes centered on novelas for several years, I am convinced that the reading is the motor that leads to truly profound language acquisition in the upper levels. While the video is compelling and grabs students’ attention like no other activity, I firmly believe that it is the repetitive, easy reading (accompanied by similar teacher talk) that cements the structure of the language into their minds.

While watching the scene I like to stop the video mid-scene whenever I can use the target structure to describe what is occurring. I allow a student to sit at my computer (a highly-coveted class job) while I stand next to the screen. I raise my hand and tap the screen whenever I want the student to pause the video. I have found this to be more effective than sitting in the back; students pay close blog post quote 1attention when I am in front and make eye contact. Being in the front also allows me to easily point at parts of the scene that I want to discuss. Sometimes I talk a lot, sometimes I talk very little, but the indisputable rule of watching a telenovela in class is that the teacher is in control of the pace. Students will want to move quickly through scenes, getting the gist by observing gestures and watching scenes with plenty of action. El Gran Hotel is compelling in part because it is visually appealing, but just watching large chunks does not aid language acquisition. The compelling nature of the show is a pretext to talk, talk, and talk about it in class. Highly comprehensible input drives language acquisition; do not fool yourself into thinking that the rapid, educated speech of the actors is highly comprehensible to your students. It is the teacher´s speech, spoken slower and simplified, that provides the CI.

After watching the scene I project the reading against the white screen (I rarely print out these packets). Often I will give a few minutes for students to read on their own before we read it together as a class. Sometimes we read it as a chorus so that no single student is singled out on the first pass through. In my classroom we have an agreed upon gesture, a punch to an open hand, which signifies that a student does not understand something. The moment I hear a smack I go back and clarify the last phrase read. After the choral reading I am free to ask anyone to translate any portion of the text, or ask pointed questions. I leave the text projected against the screen to encourage students to reread during the Q & A period. I might ask ¿Qué le gusta doña Teresa? and then either ask the entire class by saying ¿clase? or picking a specific student, who would respond el título de nobleza. Circling through the question words quickly allows me to effectively exploit the text before moving on to the next scene or activity: ¿Cuántas personas con títulos de nobleza hay en la familia Alarcón? ¿Es Alfredo un hombre común como Diego? ¿Qué tiene Alfredo que a doña Teresa no le gusta? ¿Dónde está doña Teresa? ¿Quién es débil, Diego o Alfredo? Be careful with questions that begin with ¿por qué? as these are the easiest to ask and hardest for students to answer. Instead seek a quick, easy rhythm to your questioning so that students experience a lot of success understanding this novela.

I personally never watch two scenes in a row without pausing for discussion. Even if the post-scene discussion is limited to twenty seconds, skipping straight to the next scene is a slippery slope that will train students to whine in order to always watch multiple scenes! There is always something to say, even if it is just a physical description of the background. If students insist on whining then I pull out a pre-printed set of the cartoon assignment at the end of this packet, which I keep for emergencies and substitute plans. It can be used at any point and takes my students between thirty and forty-five minutes to complete in silence.

Other activities that you can do after watching the scene include writing a summary as a whole class activity; I describe how I do that in the last several paragraphs of this blog post: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/internado-episode-3-student-guide-now-posted/. Occasionally I will ask students to complete a 5 to 10 minute fluency write about a recent part of the show. The best description of how and why to assign fluency writes was written by Judith Dubois on her blog, TPRS Witch: http://tprs-witch.com/fluency-writing-2/.

A few other useful blog posts illustrating how I use these guides include this one: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/1a-tips-on-how-to-teach-el-internado/, as well as this one that discusses whether you should use subtitles while watching the scene: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/should-i-show-the-subtitles-while-watching-el-internado-in-class/ and this last one even includes a video of me teaching El Internado (a different Spanish tv program) to one of my Spanish 1 classes: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/nothing-is-a-stretch-for-your-students/.

Finally, the last two resources in this packet can be used as (easy) final assessments, substitute assignments or, in the case of the crossword puzzle, a twist on the running dictation activity that I describe on my blog: https://mrpeto.wordpress.com/2015/12/06/crosswords-lame-or-fabulous/

Further resources: The techniques that I have described are not unique to me! If you have not heard of TPRS, or if you dismissed it years ago before it had developed into the powerful method it now is, you should join the thousands of second language instructors who have been formally trained at a TPRS workshop. Look at Blaine Ray´s website for a list of workshops (http://tprsbooks.org/tprs-workshops/) or consider attending one of the national week-long conferences during the month of July (NTPRS or iFLT), or even one of the international conferences (google “TPRS conference Agen France” or “TPRS conference Netherlands”).

Thanks for purchasing this study guide,

Kara Jacobs & Mike Peto

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How I melded SSR with whole class reading to encourage independent reading with accountability

Independent reading? Whole class novels? The best of both!

I have trouble maintaining enthusiasm for a whole class novel. Even if we start well, I am quickly reminded of Donalyn Miller´s critique of the practice: a circus of lovingly-prepared scaffolding activities limits time for actual reading. Actual reading is what accounts for the incredible gains in language acquisition, not the skill-building activities surrounding the reading. Perhaps TPRS teachers who choose to teach whole class novel units (often structured by teachers guides) fear that the novel will not be comprehensible to students without their guidance. But look at it this way: in order to read a novel that is above their students reading ability, teachers are dramatically decreasing the time available to read in class. The irony is that students who are fed a diet of incredibly easy reading in level 1 can eventually take on the level 3 novels easily, on their own.

I wanted an approach to reading whole class novels that would allow my students to read at their own pace, but also provide the kind of scaffolding that is the hallmark of the whole class novel. I wanted my students who finish their class novel to be able to go on to an FVR selection so that everyone is maximizing the reading time we have available. I wanted a minimum of class time spent explaining the novel. In the past, when I taught whole class novels that students struggled with, I did not sense that my lessons teaching them how to read advanced texts does not make them into readers. Instead it prepares students to confront complex texts, each year more and more difficult. On the other hand easy pleasure reading, losing yourself in the action of a story and not having to stop to complete a written analysis… that is what hooks a student on reading.

If you want to spend less time explaining novels and more time actually reading them then it is crucial that you choose easy to read novels. Struggling through one novel is far less effective for students than breezing through ten easy ones. Choose easy easy easy novels. I just finished reading my own TPRS novel, Superburguesas, with my Spanish 1 students (second semester). Several expert TPRS teachers with whom I have consulted place my novel within the reading abilities of 2nd semester Spanish 1 to 1st semester of Spanish 2. That means that Spanish 3 students can read it too, easily. We used many of the free activities that I have posted on this blog, but not in a traditional sequence. Although this teaching sequence took 5 weeks and 3 days to complete, we dedicated only seven days of class time to explaining the novel. Here is a description of how I did it.

p24On a Wednesday I introduced chapter zero, reading and using the activities to thoroughly understand this very short chapter. We also dedicated Thursday and Friday to whole class reading of chapter 1. After those first three days reading chapters 0 and 1 together I then let students enjoy the rest of the novel on their own during SSR/FVR time. Students finished at their own pace; the fast readers were able to choose new novels once they were finished but there was no effort to hurry anyone along. I wanted the first pass through the novel to be as low-stress and self-directed as possible. In the meantime I offered a voluntary reading group once a week after school for kids that felt like they needed more structure. I had five regular participants, all kids who had transferred into our class midyear from non-TPRS schools. Together we explicitly translated and I would ask circling questions based on what was on a particular page that we were reading.

On most days we started our class session with 10 minutes of FVR. After three weeks of FVR most students had chosen a new book, so I spent the fourth week using the Superburguesas comprehension quizzes and crossword puzzles as brief warm-ups after FVR. During this fourth week some students picked up Superburguesas again during FVR because those warm-ups must have made them realize that they needed to read the book a little closer. The warm-ups were just for a few minutes a day before our normally scheduled class (we frequently PQA about students lives, we also did several story-asking sessions, quite a few random movie talks and we have been watching episode 3 of El Internado). At the end of the fourth week I gave students this chronology quiz, click here for a PDF or click here for .docx in which students have to label each sentence in the order that it happened in the book. I entered this grade into my online grade book so that all stakeholders (myself, parents and each student) would be well-aware of who needed special attention during the next week. I also attached a note to the assignment indicating that there would be a retake the following Friday and the highest of the two grades would become the permanent grade.

The next four days were dedicated largely to discussing and acting out scenes from a book that students had already read. Suspending FVR for the week, we started each class session looking at the word cloud for the chapter we were going to review. When a student pointed to a word I (1) established meaning, (2) explained how it showed up in the chapter and (3) immediately connected the word to the students world.

For example, when a student pointed at devolver I wrote on the board devolver = to return a thing, like a book. En capítulo 9, I said, señor Marzo quiere que Rodney devuelva la pintura. No quiere matarlo, solo quiere que devuelva la pintura. ¿Quién necesita devolver la pintura? Rodney, claro. ¿Y quién quiere que la devuelva? Señor Marzo. And then I asked what other things are often returned: kids called out libros, ropa, comida mala. ¿Adónde voy para devolver un libro?, I asked.

After looking at the word cloud I asked students to help create an oral summary of the chapter. I chose my favorite parts of the chapter for students to act out without having to hammer down every sentence. This was a whole class activity that led to a summary of the chapter written on the board. Students copied each chapter summary into their notebooks. We did 2-3 chapters per day and were finished by Thursday. On Friday students took this fill in the blank assessment, here in .PDF or click here to download it as a .docx. I provide the .docx so you can change it… all it takes is one google search for students to find this page!

The last four days of instruction were intensive days of review, but most of this unit was characterized by easy pleasure reading at the pace of the student. I saw kids smiling while reading, but even more so once they were allowed to choose their reading and could immerse themselves into their own interests. Yet I still had specific feedback on specific structures from the class novel, and I had time to make sure that they have been acquired. I much prefer story-asking and FVR, but if I have to do a whole class novel I think that this is a good approach. If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Superburguesas here is a link to the page with all of the free activities and purchasing information.

final quiz

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El gato de Sèvres

This widely anthologized story by Mexican author Marco Almazán is humorous and also fun to act out.

We just finished reading this story in my heritage speakers class. I like that it is short but also has a good amount of vocabulary to explicitly play with throughout the week prior to actually reading the story. Students had a surprisingly good reaction to the story, with several chuckling aloud. I loved that!

At the beginning of the week I wanted to make sure that they knew the vocabulary so that they could get swept up into the story. Nothing ruins humor faster than having to pause to remember what a word means. We started with this list of twenty-three words and spent about thirty minutes talking (in Spanish) about the words. I would never give my non-heritage speakers such a long vocabulary list, but for my heritage speakers many of these words are not exactly new, but not always part of their active vocabularies either. The conversations that we have help activate prior knowledge (such is often the case with words like rabo, repugnante, and roñoso). Out of context my students stare blankly at me when I say the word roñoso, but a flash of recognition strikes across the room the moment I say something like No quiero que mi hija salga con aquel roñoso….

2 vocab sample completed 001As we talk we create our own definitions in Spanish, with my gentle guidance. Click on the photo to the right to see a copy of the definitions that we came up with this year; they are not dictionary definitions (for the most part) but rather generated from student ideas. This process helps me recognize which words I really have work on this week. The least familiar words will likely show up in a game of contacto at some point during the week. Starting with FVR and ending with a few minutes of a telenovela, I think this is enough for the first day.

On the second day, after our FVR period is complete, we use this power point presentation as a conversation piece, Although it is set up as a vocabulary presentation I definitely take the opportunity to discuss each photo, speculating and building little stories while finding as many occasions as possible to recycle the vocabulary in context. You could rush through this in 4 minutes, but I think it is better if you draw it out into a twenty minute activity. Afterwards, just for fun, we played boggle en español and then ended with ten minutes of telenovela.

On the third day I read and acted out the story. At first I projected the story against a screen, had a student sit at the computer and scroll down as I read, and I acted out the story with a few props and the help of one student actor (who played the part of the antiques dealer). Since I have students with vastly different reading abilities I like to act out and read aloud many stories. After we read the story I distributed copies to students and they answered the questions. I then pulled up the vocabulary power point presentation one more time and, as we saw each picture, I asked students to explain how that word was used in the story. For example, when they saw roñoso they just said something like el gato está roñoso.

Finally, on the fourth day of the lesson, we started with a longer FVR period and then I gave them this vocabulary assessment. On the back of the assessment I had them write about their FVR reading for the week. I like that, by the end of the week, even the students with a weak vocabulary can successfully complete this assessment and feel good about having read an interesting, authentic piece of literature.

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

el que diran I LOVE the Orca Soundings in Spanish series! Originally created for reluctant readers in English, this series has been beautifully translated to Spanish with a limited vocabulary that nicely bridges between TPRS readers and so-called “authentic” literature. I originally was skeptical because there is nothing particularly latino about these books. Whatever fears I may have had have long been thrown out the window; the themes in these books are so universal to adolescents that they are extremely relevant to my own students. The stories move quickly and the teen problems are realistic. Thus far I have read three of these books and they have all been gripping in their own ways. If you have heritage speakers in your classes who are engaged in an FVR program, include some of these books. I suspect that, like me, you will be back to buy the entire series.
You can find the whole series at the website of Orca Book Publishers.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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A Map to Transitioning Your Class to FVR

It is not going to happen all at once

Map to FVR paradise Last summer I encouraged a lot of teachers to set up their own Free Voluntary Reading programs (FVR). Not only do kids enjoy reading books more when they get to choose their reading, but there is a mountain of research supporting FVR in the World Language classroom when done correctly. However, even the strongest proponents of pleasure reading (i.e. Krashen) recognize that FVR is a long-term strategy. You will not see the impact in a week. A month is pretty short. We are talking about benefits that emerge after months and become strikingly obvious after a year or more. Or at least, those are my experiences. Today I want to outline a map of what to expect as your program takes root, and a few ways to assess your program while observing the cardinal rule of pleasure reading: don´t assess your students.

Lack of assessment feels like landing a plane in the fog; that is all the more reason to make sure that your program is research-based. I regularly consult Janice L. Pilgreen´s The SSR Handbook because it is a research-based approach that identifies eight characteristics of highly successful FVR programs. Some of the characteristics are more or less obvious, like having appealing reading material available in the classroom. When I wonder if my program is floundering I take the opportunity to ask my heritage speakers about what I can buy next. Even though my library is fairly large, continuing to ask students about their reading preferences sets the right tone: FVR is reading that we want to do.

It is a common misunderstanding that FVR is just “sit and read for 10 minutes”. Pilgreen points out that highly successful FVR programs DO have follow-up activities, even though those activities do not qualify as assessment. There are several things I do as follow-up activities. My favorite is to spend 4-5 minutes in small groups and have every student say something about what happened in their book today. All students talk, all students ask at least one question. Since I was reading too I join one of the groups; but no notes are taken and nothing passed in. I tell my students that we are engaging in the kind of talk that real readers do; real readers talk about their books with other readers. At first the conversations are very blah, and I am sure that this is partly because in the forefront of every student´s mind is the thought, “Why try? He is not counting this as a grade”. Over time, however, these chats become a source of information as students begin to share actual tidbits that they liked about their books. By the end of the year these talks are the main source through which students decide what to read next.

Another activity that I like to do are book talks. Whenever I introduce a new book into the class library I always place it up front and talk about it before the reading period. I also like to end a reading period with a book talk (when we are not chatting in small groups). Before I even start FVR with my level 1 students (in second semester) we have done about two months of book talks so that they are already familiar with the easy readers. In my classroom I am the one who gives book talks, but if you choose to have students give book talks then keep it on a voluntary basis.

book reviewsWhen students complete an entire book I allow them to post a book review on my back wall. The reviews are quick and painless to write; the major draw is rating it. The book review sheet is only a quarter of a page and provides a space for students to fill in up to four stars, write a sentence in English about what they liked and another about what they would change. This is entirely voluntary.

Occasionally I do have students complete a reading journal. I do this when I sense that students are not respecting the reading period; in that case the grade is simply based on completion. It also helps me identify who needs help choosing a book (that is, if they are choosing a different book every day). Most of all I see these reading journals as a part of the transition; few readers voluntarily keep journals of their pleasure reading and thus I want to minimize the use of journaling after FVR. Even when some students are defying me by simply staring at a book without reading, I remind myself that writing in a reading journal threatens to kill the internalized pleasure of reading that many of my students are developing. Assign reading journals sparingly.

Finally, I want to recognize that there will be students who will try to undermine the pleasure reading period. Do not feel bad if you still have a few students sulking during FVR. It has taken my most intransigent students months to honestly engage in pleasure reading. One heritage-speaker in particular from last year´s class often visits me and always mentions how much she read. She comes in and looks at the books, points to ones that she remembers, and exudes pride. What she does not seem to recall is that she spent nearly the first half of the year staring at the wall, holding the book upside down, crossing her eyes and distracting her friends. All she remembers now is that she joined the club of readers in my class, and that identity stuck. Every year I see transformations in students and I think that is partly because many students approach class as a game, to see how they can cheat the activity. The only way to battle this attitude is to smile and remain encouraging. Currently I have about a dozen kids who are just wasting away our FVR time, and it is so painful for me to watch, but I am convinced that external motivators will only undermine the internal motivation that they need to develop in order to truly join the club of readers.

If you enjoyed this post, you might be interested in my recommendations for buying a classroom library. One of the books is mine, but other than that I get absolutely nothing from making these recommendations.

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Word clouds to preview Superburguesas

Click here to see all of the free resources I offer to teach my novel

For those of you who are teaching with my TPRS novel, Superburguesas, I have created a set of word clouds to preview each chapter of the book.

Before students read the chapter I like to preview the words, ask them to imagine what may happen in the chapter and use the opportunity to get extra repetitions of words that may not be very high-frequency, but are certainly crucial for reading each chapter.

Click on each picture below to get a large version, which you can either right click to download to your own computer or click again to get the largest resolution available.


Chapter 1
superburguesas cap 1 word cloud

Chapter 2
superburguesas cap 2 word cloud

Chapter 3
superburguesas cap 3 word cloud

Chapter 4
superburguesas cap 4 word cloud

Chapter 5
superburguesas cap 5 word cloud

Chapter 6
superburguesas cap 6 word cloud

Chapter 7
superburguesas cap 7 word cloud

Chapter 8
superburguesas cap 8 word cloud

Chapter 9
superburguesas cap 9 word cloud

Chapter 10
superburguesas cap 10 word cloud

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Orca Soundings: A great series for reluctant readers

A highly-compelling series for heritage speakers classes

el que diran I cannot hold this in much longer: I LOVE this series! Originally created for reluctant readers in English, this series has been beautifully translated to Spanish with a limited vocabulary that nicely bridges between TPRS readers and so-called “authentic” literature. I originally was skeptical because there is nothing particularly latino about these books. Whatever fears I may have had have long been thrown out the window; the themes in these books are so universal to adolescents that they are extremely relevant to my own students. The stories move quickly and the teen problems are realistic. Thus far I have read three of these books and they have all been gripping in their own ways. If you have heritage speakers in your classes who are engaged in an FVR program, include some of these books. I suspect that, like me, you will be back to buy the entire series.

You can find the whole series at the website of Orca Book Publishers.

This is a follow-up of a longer post I wrote last August about building an FVR library for heritage speakers. Click here to read that post.

verdad cuchillo

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Choose your own adventure… readings?

An interactive reading activity

caperucita-en-manhattan2

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:

sara

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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Reading pleasure

Books that Spanish teachers may enjoy reading for pleasure

Teachers should be readers. During FVR sessions we should definitely be reading among our students, not completing school tasks. Diane Chamberlain has inspired me to describe a few books that I have enjoyed in the past few years.

susurroEl susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto. A friendship gone bad… or perhaps it was never a healthy friendship. Echos of high school bullying reach into the present, twenty or thirty years later. The description of Lima really brought me back to that city. There are no heroes in this novel; my IB student had trouble with the moral ambiguity but I found a lot to enjoy here.

transportesTransportes González e Hija by María Amparo Escandón. This novel starts with a wonderful set-up. Told inside a women´s prison in Mexico by an American held for reasons not revealed until the end, we follow the tale of her upbringing while also tracking the developing relationships among the women in the prison. I was initially fascinated by the backstory of her “university professor turned trucker-fugitive” father. There were elements of this book that prevented me from getting emotionally attached to the characters (the characters are outrageous who act and develop in not quite believable ways). I really enjoyed the way American Spanish was woven into the novel. The USA has one of the biggest Spanish-speaking populations in the world; it is wonderful to see that reflected in literature.

reyrosaseverinaSeverina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. This was a charming book about obsession. After reading the novel I was left with an aching desire to find another path into the fictional world, to spend the summer renting a room in a pensión in Guatemala City, to see what might happen.

el heroe discretoEl héroe discreto by Mario Vargas Llosa. I enjoyed this novel, but the depiction of anyone younger than fifty did make me wonder whether Vargas Llosa is aging gracefully. Ingrate children versus their sanguine, triumphant parents… if you take this theme too seriously, from either side, then don´t pick up this book. Otherwise there were plenty of moments that made me smile and a few that genuinely touched me.

americasAmericas: The Changing Face of Latin America and the Caribbean by Peter Winn. Last December I came across a copy of this book in a hiking lodge in Patagonia. I spent the next day resting and reading. A fascinating introduction to the diversity of peoples in Latin America, I especially enjoyed the chapters highlighting the experiences of women, indigenous peoples and the differing ways race is understood throughout Latin America. Drawing from interviews with contemporary Latin Americans makes this book easy to read and less abstract. Great book.

turn rightTurn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams. I do not read much travel lit, but I enjoyed reading this. Do not worry too much about the groan-worthy description on the back of the book (What happens when an unadventurous adventure writer tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?); the writer is led and informed by a highly-competent guide and the idiotic hi-jinks thankfully never really materialize. A very readable book that has inspired me to delve deeper into the subject of the Inca Empire.

el pez en el aguaEl pez en el agua by Mario Vargas Llosa. This book starts with an interesting trip into the childhood of one of the world´s most highly-regarded living authors. Chapters go back and forth between his formative years and the presidential campaign Vargas Llosa ran in the early 1990´s. While reading the behind the scenes political pieces I repeatedly had to give myself pep talks to avoid getting sucked into the author´s narrative, but it´s hard to maintain an objective distance while Vargas Llosa personally takes you under his wing. Then going back to his teenage years, I felt like I was peeling the skin back and finally understanding something about Peru. And the language, why not mention that nearly every page had something of interest.

ruidoEl ruido de las cosas al caer by Juan Gabriel Vásquez. The ambiance of this melancholy novel often appeared in my dreams at night while I was reading this book. I never know if the novel I just finished will linger in my thoughts for weeks, months or if it will quickly fade from my memory. Two months later, however, when the emotional impact of most novels have long passed, I was still occasionally looking longingly out a window, imagining the beauty of Bogota. This is a quiet novel depicting the solitary interior life of a ruined generation. There are frequent pleasures; I really enjoyed the descriptions of the Laverde family, urban life up in the mountains in Bogotá contrasted with the rural tropical areas, the beautiful geography of Colombia and inferring some of the broader changes that took place between the 1960´s through to the 1990´s. This is an enjoyable novel; however, there is something selfish about writing a book that leaves the reader feeling so alone.

diabloDiablo Guardián by Xavier Velasco. One of the most memorable trans-border novels that I have read, a modern picaresque novel. Disgusting at times. The main character, Violetta, is a character that for better or worse has stuck with me for years. A really interesting female voice, a schemer or con that negotiates between Mexican and US cultures. I found the code-switching to be a really interesting part of this novel. Here is her voice as she explains how she uses English to manipulate the innocent to help her when she first arrived to the US: ” ‘Daddy wanted to be, you know, my boyfriend’. El ‘you know’ es buenísimo, te permite decir lo que quieres pero no quieres decir y obliga a los demás a tratar de entenderte. Y así te vuelves de un sutil que bueno, you know, ¿verdad?…”.

chicanoChicano by Richard Vasquez. This is the story of a Mexican family that escapes the violence of the Mexican Revolution in the beginning of the 20th century but, as Mexican-Americans, the successive generations find their access to earning “the American dream” limited by overt and structural racism. As the title suggests, this novel was written (back in the 1970´s) with an explicit political message against the idea that Latinos can (or should) simply assimilate into Anglo-America. Putting aside the historical place of the novel, there is quite a bit that I did enjoy reading. Some complain about the melodramatic plot twists and, particularly, the ending… but it seems to me that the over the top, brown versus white characterizations actually pay homage to narrative structures in Mexican popular culture rather than fitting the plot to the demands of the Anglo reading public of the day.

carameloCaramelo by Sandra Cisneros. Simply one of the great family novels published in the last 20 years. My heritage speaking students often laugh aloud in recognition while reading the first few chapters describing a family road trip from Chicago to Mexico. I have heard criticism of the way this novel is structured. Digression upon digression reaching into the past, zooming into the present creating a quilt of memories. One reviewer called this effect “helpfully alienating to the Anglo reader”. There is something very Latino about the structure of this book. Nonetheless, Cisneros once commented that this is not about the “Mexican-American” experience, that the necessity of the hyphen speaks volumes about where our culture currently is. This is truly an American novel.

peorLos Peor by Fernando Contreras Castro. This is my vote for the Best Novel That You Most Likely Have Never Heard Of award. A marvelous, modern novel set among the lower classes of San Jose, Costa Rica that combines Greek mythology with environmental disaster and a very memorable set of characters. This is a story with a great social conscience, a rare work that is both very Costa Rican and yet universal.

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The concrete poem that opens Superburguesas

This is a power point for teachers who are teaching from my TPRS novel, Superburguesas. Click here to see all resources available for teaching my novel.

4 interpretationsChapter 0 starts with a concrete poem, “written” by one of the characters. During an earlier draft I had actually drawn a flower around the poem to make the shape of the poem more clear, but then it occurred to me that I could play with the ambiguous shape of the poem to provoke a more lively student reaction.

Click here to download the power point that I use to discuss this concrete poem in class.

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Building a class library for heritage speakers of Spanish

books 7 small

During NTPRS I was impressed with how many teachers of heritage speakers follow my blog and, more to the point, how little there is out there to support those teachers. Today I am going to focus on the needs of the heritage-speaking student of Spanish. Or perhaps heritage-aware because, as Krashen reminds us, speaking may not be the dominant characteristic of these classes.

The most important and perhaps surprising recommendation that I have for teachers of heritage speakers: start your class library with a large variety of TPRS readers made for non-heritage language learners. You do not have to be a TPRS teacher to take advantage of these highly readable novels; they can fit into any curriculum that values reading.

Why have I found that starting with these basic novels is better than authentic literature written for native speakers? On one hand, heritage students in my lowest level classes range from readinghert1 on a first grade level all the way up to college level. To be able to get students with low-level reading skills to buy into the class you will need very simple books with content designed for adolescents, not pre-schoolers. Within a year those students will improve, but some will not jump to the level needed to read “authentic” age appropriate literature. Therefore those students reading at the lowest levels will need to rely on the TPRS novels for their independent reading all year long. That is not to say that they will only be reading TPRS readers. During whole class reading I read a lot of Quiroga, Márquez, Matute, and stories collected in a bilingual collection called Stories that must not die by Juan Sauvageau, but independent reading must be easy.

On the other hand, many of my heritage students come to class reading on a middle school level: hert2those students will tire eventually of the TPRS readers, but at first they will need to experience a high degree of SUCCESS in order to really get hooked on reading. I encourage them to read TPRS novels until they decide to opt out for more authentic texts because I want them to feel the pleasure of reading, and ‘difficult’ reading for people who are not yet readers will never feel like pleasure reading. If you are worried that they are not developing their vocabulary (a valid concern), keep in mind that a year of easy reading from these TPRS books virtually solves all of the most common spelling errors (accents, v and b, h, and common errors like “a ser” in place of hacer). Despite the many activities that I have designed to get students to correct common errors, the only thing that has actually WORKED is lots of really easy pleasure reading.

easy to readIf I were building my class library from scratch and could buy 70 books I would make sure that at least 40 were easy TPRS readers. Those books can be ordered largely at TPRS Publishing and Blaine Ray Workshops. I have my own novel available here; readers who have bought my book have described it as a “a real page turner” and “a fun read”. If you are doing FVR then I would say get at least one copy of them all (between Blaine Ray, TPRS Publishing and the few independent authors like me you will easily be able to find over 40 different titles). Another independently authored book that you´ll want to add is Sueños de la isla, a book that has great appeal to boys (click here to look at samples of this book).

The backbone of my library is made up of the TPRS novels. Books that will be HIGHLY appealing to heritage speakers include the recently published Todo lo que brilla (available at Blaine Ray´s website), Esperanza (especially if you have kids from Central America), Vida y muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha, La llorona de Mazatlán, Fiesta fatal, Bianca nieves, Felipe Alou, Robo en la noche and La hija del sastre. Consider getting several copies of these novels so that kids can read them together… they will enjoy discussing them!

Once you have a solid collection of easy to read novels, here are my latest recommendations to diversify the library to cater to specific interests as well as advanced readers. One major warning: if there is a spectrum of censorship that teachers engage in to make sure that books are school appropriate, I fall way on the radical/permissive end of that spectrum. I do not think my choices would be controversial if I were an English teacher, but Spanish teachers do not usually have class libraries with real teen issues and swearing. When it comes to authentic literature, I do have such books. That, by the way, is another advantage of the TPRS novels; you know they will all be school-appropriate. You know your district, so use your discretion.

#1 choice when buying for boys: Biographies of soccer players, especially the encyclopedia type hert3books cataloging things like the “best 100 players of all time” (that way you do not have to worry about supplying books for fans of one particular team).

#1 choice when buying for girls: Anything written by “Blue Jeans”, which is the pseudonym of Francisco de Paula Fernández. Start your collection with Canciones para Paula… but buy anything written by him. ¡OJO! This series will turn some kids on to reading, but is likely questionable for some schools.

Coraline (novela grafica) by Neil Gaiman. Translated from English, but a popular book in my library… the most stolen book in fact. Highly recommended!

Amaranta by Care Santos

Esperanza renace by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Recently I ordered a series of graphic novels based on the fantasy series Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego Garcia. I cannot wait to find the right kid to connect with these beautiful books.

Las dos caras de Sofia and La decisión de Camila by Cecilia Curbelo (teen issues set in Uruguay)

I have books from the lowest 4 collections of leveled readers in the Leer en Español series by Santanilla Press. They have surprisingly good adaptations of novels originally written by classic Spanish authors such as Bécquer and Pérez Galdós… last year I had a native speaker completely engrossed with their adaptation of Marianela: http://www.santillanausa.com/catalogs/secondary-catalog/spanish-as-a-world-language-6-12/leer-en-espanol-series.html

I also love the Explora tu mundo series by Scholastic, a wonderful way to bring readable science books into the Spanish classroom.

Finally some books that were originally bought as “reach” books for my non-heritage speakers but resonate well with some heritage speakers:

Several different books in the Diario de Greg and Diario de Nikki series

Books from the Judy Moody series

Here are some pictures of my class library for heritage speakers. Starting with an overview of the three bookcases that I currently have available for students to browse, you will see that it is organized (for the most part) by theme, not reading level (click to get a larger version that is easier to read):

wholebookHere is a close-up of the shelf for Sports (click on the photo to get a large version that will be easier to read):

sports

Here is a close-up of the Animals section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

animals2

And here is the fantasy section (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

fantasy

Many of the books in my Mexico section are, by student request, about narcos. However I really love Huesos de lagartija by Federico Navarrete, which tells the tale of the conquest of Mexico through the eyes of a young indigenous priest-in-training. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

Mexico2

I have a small section of biographies. The most popular are the biographies of Chespirito, Jenni Rivera, Selena and the book Dulce Amargo, a set of poems by Dulce María written during her adolescence. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

bio

I love my children´s encyclopedias, which are fascinating, loaded with cognates and surprisingly easy to read because they are designed to be browsed rather than read “linearly” (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

encyc

The “Juvenil” section includes things like the Dairy of a Wimpy Boy series, Captain Underpants and other books that appeal to some reluctant readers searching for something familiar (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one):

juvenil

I also have a “libros infantiles” section, many of which have been donated to my classroom. This is the shelf that I pull from for my non-heritage speakers classes on days when I am tired and I just want to read a book together with the kids. I will often project each page against the white screen using a document camera and, rather than read, we describe what we see using the vocabulary that we know. That is a very enjoyable, high-impact but zero-prep activity.

infantiles

Finally I have a bottom shelf of books reserved for my high level IB students. There are several books in the hands of students right now that are not pictured; those are El susurro de la mujer ballena by Alonso Cueto and Transportes González e hija by María Amparo Escandón. (click on the photo for a larger version, click again for an even larger one)

ib

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NTPRS 2015: my presentation on FVR

title page This is the power point that I presented at NTPRS 2015 in Reston, VA. If you missed my session or you could not make it to NTPRS this year then, as you open up the power point, look at the display mode called “notes page” and you will be able to read the transcript of what I said in the session.

ppt

I present an argument as to why FVR should be a part of TPRS classes for all students, not just high achievers. I also cover the essentials that you will need to create your own FVR program, some advice on how to be frugal and how to assess the effectiveness of the program. Within the presentation there are a lot of embedded links, so even if you came to the session you may want to download some of the materials mentioned. Click here to download the presentation.

Finally, on Twitter after the presentation, Steve Smith asked whether TPRS places more weight on reading than listening. While my FVR program is essential to my classes, the non-heritage speakers are only reading for 5-15 minutes while the majority of the class time is spent with story-asking and PQA.

Someone else asked if I read class novels and do FVR at the same time. I should have mentioned that I usually teach 2 class novels per year with my Spanish 3 kids in units that last no longer than 3 weeks; during that time FVR and other non-class-novel activities are suspended. With my level 1 kids I still read class novels as well (Pobre Ana can start as early as we want), but we do not start FVR until the 2nd semester.

Finally my heritage speakers read more; once they are accustomed we will spend as much as 20-30 minutes per class reading FVR… although 10 minutes is more typical for the beginning of the school year. FVR is suspended while we read whole class novels or on the days that I read a short story to them.

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Book review: Speed readings for Spanish Learners by Eric Herman

eric hermanThe day that Eric Herman sent a message out to everyone on the moretprs listserve I happened to be online and I rushed to place my order. Today I received my copy and I have to say, I really like what I am reading.

Speed reading is a concept that is new to me. Briefly, the idea is to encourage students to read for comprehension, not decode. They have a 400 word reading and try to read it as quickly as possible (maximum six minutes). The vocabulary is high-frequency so that students should not be encountering new words in these readings. Afterwards they complete a multiple choice quiz to measure their comprehension and they mark their results on a chart marking both speed and grade. Over a suggested ten week span the students take three quizzes per week and try to read faster while maintaining at least a 70% comprehension grade. Like fluency writing, this activity trains students to avoid inefficient approaches such as translating everything.

Eric has done a great job putting together these stories. They are amusing and feature a variety of recognizable characters that add interest. Now for the heart-breaking part: in order to use this book as intended you need to buy a class set. For me, with California-size classes, that would be almost $400. Happy you if you can afford that.

I did not realize that when I bought it, but now that I have the book I am brainstorming how to make the best of it. I can see that this would be especially useful for the one or two students I have every year who have demonstrated thorough acquisition in class yet still insist on translating stories word for word. That actually happens, so now I have another feather in my differentiation cap.

Outside of the original purpose of the book, I may use the stories for read-alouds. If you can afford a class set, you may be very excited about this purchase. If you cannot afford a class set, this might be worth purchasing just to see how Eric has put this together. I am already planning on developing my own set of speed readings suited to my curriculum.

By the way, it follows the LICT curriculum. As I read the stories there are occasional words that I would not have taught my level 1 kids (desilusionado, construir, toboganes), but apparently if you use LICT then the vocabulary is 100% transparent. Follow this link to Eric Herman´s website for a much more detailed description of this speed reading program.

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Galeano & May Day

galeano1Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan author who had a tremendous impact on how Latin Americans understand history, passed away recently. His book about soccer, El fútbol a sol y sombra, is already on our school´s HL reading list for the IB program. Looking through his writing I found a short piece about US history that I have adapted for my level 3 classes. If you have ever lived abroad you surely have noticed that virtually every other country on Earth observes May Day, in commemoration of an event that is often cited as the birth of the labor movement. When Galeano visited Chicago he found it strange that there was no statue, no plaque, no historical memory at all of the Haymarket Square Riot. This piece, which is very characteristic of his historical writing, is anecdotal and is as much about future possibilities as it is about the past. I think that this is a wonderful introduction to his work for students in the third year of Spanish.

I have added photos and questions on the second side. You might not like the creative response questions, which try to get at the essential theme of the piece. Click here for a .pdf or, in case you want to change anything, click here for a .docx version. I plan on reading the article slowly with my Spanish 3 students on Friday, May 1, which of course is still just a normal school day in the United States.

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More high-interest novels for heritage speakers

HL course pathways docI am definitely wading into deep, and potentially hot water with these latest acquisitions… but at least they are not being placed directly into my FVR library for any student to grab. Not until I have read them, at least. These are some more books that I am acquiring for our HL Spanish course, an advanced IB course which (in my school) is being offered to reasonably fluent & literate heritage speakers. Non-heritage speakers of Spanish take the standard level course, a one year Spanish 4 class that prepares them for an exam. The HL course, on the other hand, is my baby: a two year sequence which in my hands is being molded into a FVR fanatic´s dream course.

Enough about that; the reason I am posting this list is that it might be useful for teachers of heritage speakers or for teachers who are looking for easy, addictive reading to improve their own Spanish. While previous lists of books that I have posted have focused on heavy issues such as immigration and gender roles, these books only have one thing in common: they are addictive reading. Or so it appears by the Spanish-speaking fan blogs that I scour. Also, because IB insists that the two major literary works that my HL students write about were originally published in Spanish, all of these novels were published first in Spanish. Let me be clear: I am sure there will be sex and violence somewhere in these books. Test drive before releasing to adolescents. Most of these authors come from Spain; if not I explicitly note it.

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Crime fiction

Trilogía del Baztán – Dolores Redondo Meira (The three books are El guardián invisible, Legado en los huesos, Ofrenda en la tormenta) I am excited to find a trilogy that is not fantasy for my students who dislike fantasy.

El lejano país de los estanques – Lorenzo Silva

La estrategia del agua – Lorenzo Silva (I am really looking forward to reading this for my own pleasure)

Abril rojo – Santiago Roncagliolo Author from Lima, Peru.

Sangre y Clorofila – Virgilio Rodriguez Macal (An older piece of action fiction, but one of the very few on any of my lists from Central America. Certain to contain outdated and sexist language and situations, probably will never make it into the hands of students).

Science fiction & fantasy

Memorias de Idhún – Laura Gallego García (This is a trilogy: La Resistencia, Tríada, Panteón) Very strong fan base.

La Estrella – Javi Araguz

La llave del tiempo – Ana Alonso (This is a large series: La torre y la isla, La esfera de medusa, La ciudad infinita, El jinete de plata are the first four books in the series). This was recommended to me by a teacher who uses this series in her upper level classes for non-native speakers of Spanish.

Young adult issues

Besos de murciélago – Silvia Hervás

Amaranta – Care Santos

Quién como Dios – Eladia González The only writer on this list from Mexico, this is historical fiction set in Mexico from a very popular contemporary writer.

El lápiz del carpintero – Manuel Rivas This was originally written in Galician (it is said to be the most widely translated work ever published in Galician literature, so sadly steer students away from writing about it for an IB external assessment. Attract student interest by pointing out that the author is the father of Martiño Rivas aka “Marcos” from El Internado.

Canciones para Paula #1 – Blue Jeans (Francisco de Paula Fernandez)

Mírame y dispara – Alessandra Neymar

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Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) Library

I just came back from my monthly trip to peruse used bookstores in Southern California (which neatly coincides with when I receive my paycheck). I am really excited about several purchases I made for my classroom FVR library, but a little disheartened with one gaping hole in my library that I cannot seem to plug: I need more texts for first year students. Short readers with miniscule word counts that second semester students can handle on their own. I suspect that anybody who has built a FVR library knows what I am talking about; children´s books are great for kindergarten day but not so much for silent sustained reading. I know that there are a handful of great TPRS authors who have released books appropriate for this level… I have already bought them. I want dozens more.

Anybody want to turn your class stories into class novellas? Backstory… just ask for the back story!

I am imagining a database of tiny little class novels, complete with student illustrations and (if your district allows this) a picture of the authors. Write a novel with your class and get free access to download any other novel submitted to the database. Help develop a database that would make FVR much more feasible and economical for teachers everywhere. That would be cool.

It wouldn´t replace the high-quality novels published with the aid of professional editors. I just want to make that point before someone else does.

This was something I planned on working on over the summer, but have come to realize that right now is the time to mention it if anyone (and their class) wants to collaborate with me this Spring. My Spanish 3 class is already cracking on this, so we´ll have at least one student created novel.

Several details: (1) small, small, small pamphlet novels, (2) my wife´s plane lands in about two hours, so I probably will not be checking the internet at all for the next two days until she flies back to the East Coast on Monday morning, and (3) Spanish… sorry French teachers! Sorry Italian teachers! sigh

Mike Peto

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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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El almohadón de plumas (Horacio Quiroga)

0 prereading - the nightmareThis is certainly a difficult text to teach due to the advanced language. Yet I find the story to be irresistible. On one level El almohadón de plumas is just a good horror story that is fun to act out in class. It is also fun to misdirect the reader; Quiroga leads us to believe that the life of the young wife is slowly being drained away due to the lack of love in her new marriage. It almost sounds like a proto-feminist fable and I like to point out the cues that lead the reader to condemn Jordán and his cold, passionless behavior.

When I teach this story I use embedded readings to build up from a very simple version of the story until, by the end of the week, students are reading the original version written by Horacio Quiroga. I taught this story this year with a larger unit about love, dating norms and gender roles.

First step: essential vocabulary

Click here to download the phrases  that I use in class telling class stories and PQA until students have developed an automatic response to the phrases. It may take more than one class. I did not give this sheet to students until I felt that they already knew the words so that it did not feel like a vocabulary list that we were plugging through but rather some spontaneous conversations. When I thought that they were ready I gave them the list and they translated the list on their own in class, verifying their acquisition. Finally we completed this power point vocab presentation together. Rather than fly through it be sure to linger and discuss why some options are wrong; have fun imagining that the casa de los reyes es un rasguño rather than a palacio.

Second step: embedded reading

I have students fold this embedded reading into quarters so that they are only looking at the relevant section. Do not let them skip ahead! We read each part as a class, discussing line by line, acting out and finally writing five questions per section. Simple questions that have an obvious answer within the text. For example, an acceptable question for the first section might be something like: ¿Amaba Jordán a Alicia? Once everyone has five questions we go around the class, each asking a question and the whole class responding in unison. In practice this did not always work, but it did keep most students focused on the text. This process is so intense, requiring so much focus on part of the students, that the class period passed quickly before we were able to finish the reading.

Third step: el cortometraje

Before reading the original text I like to discuss and watch this video , which you should warn students is not a faithful reproduction of the short story. I interrupt the film often so it takes us about 25 minutes to watch a nine minute film. If you have time you might start the class with a discussion of the painting that I placed at the beginning of this post. In both cases they are getting many targeted repetitions of key vocabulary structures that they´ll need when reading the original story.

Fourth step: the original text

I edited this text very lightly to make it more comprehensible for my students, but for the most part this is the original version . I have included quite a few comprehension breaks including vocabulary reflections, comprehension questions and prompts for illustrations. Students already know the story; they just have to be able to comprehend this version. I certainly read the first two pages as a whole group activity to keep any of my students from giving up when they get to a stretch that is difficult for them to understand. I talk it out, orally simplifying passages.  Nonetheless the assessment I made, which you can download here, does get to how well they have developed a familiarity with the final, complex text.

Definitely discuss the difference between movie and original story prior to the assessment and require them to know the story version for the assessment. If you want a little more time you can have them complete this biographical sketch of Quiroga´s tragic life using the Spanish Wikipedia page (I made this a few years ago, so it might be worth double checking to see if the information is still there).

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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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La prodigiosa tarde de Baltazar

updated 4/18/2014: see parts in red

Embedded readings helped me scaffold this story:

jaulaI have always loved this story by García Márquez but, until now, I never quite managed to find the right approach to teaching it. This is such a delight to read and discuss, yet the high-level vocabulary threatens to derail the conversation from the interesting ideas presented in the story to incomprehensible trivia (i.e. what are the “eaves” of a house, and why do i need to know that word in Spanish?). Here is how I approached this story for my AP language class:

(1) Optional pre-reading: Brief discussion about “la pirámide social” using a powerpoint to help guide us.  This focused the class on one of the principal themes of the story and signaled that we are more interested in the ideas than learning complex vocabulary. DOWNLOAD THE PRE-READING PPT HERE: PRE-READING PPT.

(2) First embedded reading: A very basic outline written in my own words that is 100% comprehensible.  Students read this on their own. After each paragraph students wrote six questions which could be answered by the reading (nothing profound, simple things like ¿Cómo se llamaba el hombre?). After reading we went around the room and as each student read one of their questions the entire class responded in chorus. After asking 6-10 student-generated questions on each section the students were experts. DOWNLOAD THE FIRST EMBEDDED READING HERE: FIRST EMBEDDED READING

(3) Second embedded reading: This version is a little more complex as it uses the actual text of the story. Nonetheless it has been abridged so that most of the low-frequency vocabulary is left out. We read this version as a class and I model my surprise at significant details that were left out of the first version. I act out parts and add drama to the dialogue, reading the same lines of dialogue several times in different ways and asking students which performance is the more likely (given what they know about the character and situation). This is also were I pause to wonder about the characters (developing familiarity with their quirks before students are faced with the original version of the story). This is where students develop a rich mental picture of what is happening. Next year I might have them make a storyboard at this point, but this year my students had a very good grasp of the story at this point (and could retell it without the storyboard). I have many heritage speakers in my class who really needed this step in order to not be intimidated by the original version.  DOWNLOAD THE SECOND EMBEDDED READING HERE: SECOND EMBEDDED READING
The following year I turned this reading into a power point that we all read together, along with a few pictures to help visualize what happens: click HERE to download the power point version.

(4) Third reading: This is the original version of the story, with a lot of scaffolding in the form of side notes. Students read this version in pairs while I wandered around the room offering help, but they were pretty independent! Students were engaged because they could see exactly what was new, yet they were able to follow the story easily. Furthermore, this is the only version that actually has the complete ending. I included comprehension questions at the end to keep the fast readers busy while everyone else finished up (I got the questions from this blog post), but I think next year I will find something else for the fast readers to do. I did create a set of questions for literary analysis, which I wrote on the board one by one and we discussed as a class (always referring back to the original story, thus prompting a fourth reading of selected parts). DOWNLOAD THE THIRD READING HERE: ORIGINAL STORY WITH LOTS OF SIDE NOTES

In 2014 I reformatted the final reading to include a few questions and, most importantly, very wide margins on the left hand where I require them to take notes about vocabulary that they do not understand. There are still abundant notes on vocabulary provided in the right margins. Click HERE to download the more recent version of the final story.

During the class period after the last embedded reading I used this worksheet as a warm-up to review a few key vocabulary words from the story. We then created a class story together about what happened the next day when Baltazar awoke shoeless in the street. I insisted that we work in each of the target vocabulary words as often as we could, and we had a lot of fun doing it. DOWNLOAD THE VOCABULARY WARM-UP HERE: VOCAB

Interested in more embedded readings? Take a look around Laurie Clarcq´s website!

Interested in a detailed example of how to co-create a class story? Check out Bryce Hedstrom´s website!

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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

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Not giving up on homework

So many teachers that I admnewspapersire have given up altogether on giving homework that I am often tempted to follow their lead.  Reading Alfie Kohn is enough to make any teacher cringe at the idea of piling on more homework. Yet there are useful assignments that are worthy of my own and my students’ time. Furthermore, I teach on the block; my students need to be thinking in Spanish more than three times per week. My rule is that all homework must be meaningful, not just to me but also to my students. Here is my set assignment for every Tuesday night for my Spanish 3 & 4 classes.

Once a week students must find and read a newspaper article in Spanish (don’t give up, there is a twist).  Although it is a Tuesday night assignment I always say “once a week” so that students who do not have internet access at home understand that they should not wait until Tuesday night… they can use school computers or go to the local library or have a friend print out an article for them. Either way, it is due on Wednesday in class, no excuses.

When students arrive to class I am standing at my door with a list of 12 students who will write the headline of their article on the whiteboard. Every student passes in a fifty word reaction to the homework bin, so there is accountability for all, but the fun starts with the 12 chosen ones. As a class we start by asking a few questions, making sure that everyone understands 100% of what is written (and that the 12 students have some grasp of the article that they chose). Then we decide which headline is the most interesting. Or rather, which headline will lend itself to creating the most interesting class story. At this point input from the person who actually read the article is no longer required because we, as a class, are not interested in creating a factual retelling of the news story; instead we are interested in creating the most interesting backstory that could possibly explain what led to the event reported.

If you are a TPRS teacher then you already know what it means to “ask a story”. Starting with a simple statement the teacher asks a myriad of questions, constantly recycling target structures in the questions and answers so that students acquire the phrases. As students volunteer possible answers to the questions some of the answers are accepted, some are not, and slowly a complex, often absurd story is created.

What I like about the news stories is that, when the class culture is just right, students are seriously motivated to find an interesting article.  The entire class takes ownership of the story as nearly everyone contributes something, but there is a certain special pride in having your article chosen as the most interesting starting point. The class quickly acquires advanced vocabulary used in newspapers, and this is an entertaining lens through which to explore current events.