Wednesday, April 8, 2015

"Fiesta Fatal": A novel adventure

Photo by Christopher Michael license
What do you get when you combine a Mexican fiesta de quince años, a spoiled teenage girl who constantly fights with her mom, and a drug cartel? 

Fiesta fatal, obviously! 

I came across this TPRS novel by Mira Canion last spring and thought it would be perfect for my mixed middle- and high-school Spanish II class this year. The language is easy for novices to understand, and the plot is action-filled. There are many opportunities for students to understand how the two main past tenses in Spanish, the preterite and imperfect, are used, while facilitating comprehension by employing a relatively uncomplicated use of vocabulary. My students enjoyed it a lot: they called it "funny," "suspenseful," "interesting" and "fun to read." Here's how I used the novel in class. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

My students love playing ____.

(Answer: Verba!)
UPDATE! The Verba Kickstarter campaign has started! You can get a set (or more) of Verba by donating to the cause. If you're curious about Verba, watch the video below and send a few bucks to  help get the project off the ground. Thanks! 

Original post follows:

Fill-in-the-blank activities have a bad rap.

When I was a student, I remember filling in endless blanks. Endless blanks. For no good reason that I can remember other than to practice a grammar point (nominally) or just to complete the assignment (closer to the truth). 

As a teacher, I use fill-in-the-blank, or cloze, items sometimes, mostly in listening comprehension activities. They can be useful scaffolding tools when students aren't yet proficient enough to produce whole sentences on a certain topic. Cloze becomes more fun when the activity resembles Mad Libs, where students can plug in silly or creative ideas. But I'd never call cloze wildly fun or exciting. 

Oh, but there IS a wildly fun and exciting way to use cloze in the classroom...  

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Have Success with Projects: Bitstrips Edition

You know how projects can sometimes seem overwhelming? Too much work to set up? Kids don't perform as well as you'd hoped? I can't say that all of my projects are runaway successes every time, but I've found that using the right tool and the right processes can make them more meaningful for students. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Low-tech, high-interest

World Bank Photo Collection license
Sometimes a pencil and a partner are more effective teaching tools than the newest app or the sleekest device. I was reminded of this at ACTFL in San Antonio this past November, when I went to a session called Challenging Students: Learning Language Through Discovery. (There wasn't a handout per se, as far as I know, but you can access my notes here.) It was one of my favorite sessions, because the presenters used activities in Mandinka and Mandarin to show us how we, as students, could figure out language concepts on our own. The activities were engaging, memorable, fun and made me feel like I had achieved something. So of course I immediately began thinking of how I could integrate this into my classes.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Photo credit: Daniel Go license
When I was an impressionable newbie teacher, a world language educator I highly respect told me that students needed daily homework in order to facilitate language acquisition. For years, I would assign homework out of workbooks (fill in the blank, choose the right word, matching, multiple choice, crosswords, word searches, ad infinitum) because I truly believed that those assignments helped students learn the language.

Can you guess where this is going?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Master Twitter in 5 Steps

Photo credit: Karola Riegler

Is this you? 
You’ve joined Twitter. You’re following a few people. Your profile picture may or may not be an egg. You’ve even tweeted a couple of times. But you’re wondering what all the fuss is about. 
Or maybe this is you? You’ve joined Twitter and you’ve found tons of interesting people and ideas. But there is just way too much information. You can’t keep track of the stuff you want to know more about.
If either of these scenarios sounded familiar, you’ve probably begun the process of building your PLN (see this post I wrote back in September), but you want guidance about how to make it extraordinary, transformative and--most importantly--personalized for you and your needs. Here’s how to master Twitter in five steps.

Monday, October 27, 2014

You Should Read...

Cover image from
Building a Better Teacher, by Elizabeth Green

My teacher bookshelf is, to use the words of an educator I admire, too often "aspirational." It's rare that I find the time and inclination to read books on teaching when I'm working hard at it ten or twelve hours every weekday (and several hours on weekends too). But this book made me go "Yes!" and "Huh!" and "How?" and "Finally!" many, many times as I read it. In short, it's worth it, and I think all educators should read it immediately. Here are four reasons why.