Organizing and planning for maximum laziness.

I’ve had teachers come to my classroom who were very impressed with the way I lay out my classes and keep myself on track. Some folks online had asked to see this as well. I don’t think it’s anything special, but as a very unorganized dude this does keep me from having to plan more than once and I rarely forget to do something I’ve planned, and I never fumble for where anything is in the middle of class, even with multiple preps. If it helps you, let me know!

Click the link for my video explanation.


First time Mafia

People have always been intrigued when I say that I can teach literally any verb structure or vocab set using Mafia. That it’s my class’ favorite thing to do, and we can make a game last for a 75 minute class. By year 2, some kids will argue for minutes at a time in the TL. I posted videos here years ago but lost them in a job move. So here’s another. This is the very first time this class has ever played, so you can see me break down the rules and do one round. This is a level 2 class, but I wouldn’t do much different for level 1 other than remove a few option choices. As they get stronger in the game, the story of who/what/where/when gets more involved. It’s the first time they’ve seen the verb lleva, but you’ll notice how they adapt quickly.

Rejoinders as class culture

It’s been years since I blogged. Life and this job has beaten me nearly to death. But I have had amazing luck and have landed at a school that supports me and gives me space and time to create, teach, and reflect. I hope to be able to give back to this CI community that has helped me throughout the years.

A day ago I posted about how I was trying to create a positive class culture, where students not only listened to each other, but reacted appropriately to the situation. I started using the phrase “just because I’m not talking TO you, doesn’t mean I’m not talking FOR you.” Explaining that every time I talk to anyone, it’s an opportunity for them to acquire the language without being forced to be the center of attention. People wanted to know what it looked like and how I use rejoinders. I use them in TONS of ways. Just tons. But here are legit examples of this instance to foster culture. Both of these videos are unscripted and uncoached. Students were simply told I was going to record a video while I taught.

This was the 3rd time I met with my Spanish 1 class. They had never been taught ¿”Cómo estás?” By me, but several had prior knowledge and some responses. We’ve been using rejoinders since day 1. You can tell they’re still a bit reluctant but I just keep coaching.

For Spanish 2, you can see they’re more confident speakers and enthusiastic. They know some language so it’s really more about getting them to interact and find rejoinders they like to commiserate/empathize/poke fun. I’d like to think you’ll notice the intentional way I invite them to make a little fun at my expense and also subtly let them know I value their empathy. This is what I mean by building culture!

Let me know your ideas to add more value to our classrooms! I hope this helps in some small way.

Advanced mafia part 2

If there are any reader to my blog left, Howdy folks!  It’s been a minute.  My district blocked access to this site for a while, and I was way too lazy to do it from home.  The format was also really not working well.  I have dozens of things I could share, and hours of classroom video for anyone interested, but I was given a request last week to demonstrate how to get your kids  processing higher level language using the game Mafia.  See previous videos here and here.

Now, if you don’t already know how to play mafia, get your little hiney over to The Comprehensible Classroom and learn.  This post isn’t so much for you.

Now,  let me preface this video by saying:  I made a crap-ton of errors in the beginning.  I was doing it all on the fly and turns out I was very very sick when I began.  You’ll notice I literally couldn’t remember the same thing over and over and over.  But hey, it’s good for us to see that nobody is ever perfect.  But you will see some cool stuff.

  1. How I am transitioning them to use more advanced structures.
  2. How I wait and encourage them to speak.
  3. A very fast processor who speaks faster than I ever do in class.
  4. A kid get ticked off and how I deal with it.

Enjoy.  Honestly you could probably skip to the 10 minute mark when they really take off, but it’s up to you.  Here is the link to the video with it’s terrible volume.

what starting a class can look like

Here you will see my opening procedure, a quick practice of a previous story from look, I can Talk, students doing jobs, volleyball reading, TPR, and beginning the class’ first MovieTalk.  What to know:

This class had Spanish 1 by a teacher who doesn’t communicate with her students.  I get them knowing some words, but no idea how to put them together.  So in reality I’m teaching Spanish 1/2.  This is the 14th day of school.


Click here for the video:

Click here for the video



Finals suck. Do this instead.

No-stress no-prep input based finals

It’s that time of year, and many of us are madly trying to create a final. I’ll be honest: I’ve SO bought into the idea of grading based on the most minimalistic set of expectations that I almost never bother with tests. Most of the time I learn all I need to know through a quick write. If it takes me more than 3 minutes to grade, it’s not going to get done. What are finals really for, anyway? If you’re working closely with your students using CI, then you already know if they’re progressing and learning.

We still have 2 weeks of school left and many teachers are starting a yearly review already. Since I started teaching with CI, I no longer have to do that. Not a single day is wasted (and I can’t stress the word wasted enough) covering what has already been covered. You know what? If they didn’t learn the (insert thing here) they’ve been learning since last year, a couple days more isn’t going to help!. Yes, for many subjects reviews are helpful, but honestly most teacher I see give a kid a final review, which they can use on the test, and which happens to be the exact same questions! Were you really testing their knowledge? This always just feels like a waste of kid’s time and opportunity to learn more.

Rant over. Heck, my kids are squeezing in another novel in these last 2 weeks. Or at least some of one. INPUT INPUT INPUT. That’s what we’re here to do. So, what are some things I do / you can do to that wont take you a ton of effort to create or grade? Can you design a final that gives the student 1 more day of input, or teaches them something about culture that you missed?

Nah bruh – this is the end of my blog for today. Seriously though, here are some things:

  1. For my Spanish 4 this year, I gave a copy of El Mundo en Tus Manos to my students. Surely you know about this super comprehensible newspaper already! Students had to read the articles and summarize them in English. Took about 20 minutes for them and 10 seconds for me. We went right back to talking about stuff in Spanish. A French version is also available.

  2. For my level 2s this last semester, I did a Cultural final. I took this idea from Leslie Davison and tailored it to work for me. I don’t get to teach nearly enough culture and so I created a list of 30 topics from Frida Kahlo to El Silbón to Selena. I put 3 down on a notecard and handed each student 1 card randomly. They got 5 minutes to choose a topic, 40 minutes to create a 10 slide presentation in English, and had to present to each other in groups of 3. Must last 3 minutes and not be bullet point driven. Grade was based on their scoring of each other and my grade of their google slides. This is an everybody wins final. It would be nice to do it in Spanish but they’re not capable of that deep thought about such diverse topics, and this is what works for me. Here is my version and the rubric I created. It’s nothing fancy.

  3. Pick a youtube clip. A short movie, commercial, music video, anything that is rich with content. Play it several times (or let the students watch on their own) and you can do any of a hundred things with it. More advanced students can write a story. Give them a list of academic vocabulary like MIENTRAS or además and ask them to use some of them a certain number of times. For less advanced, you can write a story and create questions that allow them to show what they know. Broad, open-ended questions like ¿Cómo es…?, etc. Something where they can show you what they’ve learned. Maybe create a new ending.

  4. Have them watch Extr@, Destinos, or a any range of videos (with dialogue) you think you might want to use next year (or didn’t get to use this year) and have them review each one in English. Make sure to include criteria for student interest. It could help you figure out if something is worth showing the next year, You could do something similar with podcasts for more advanced students. Call it a Very Narrow Listening final of sorts.

  5. Have students select a book from your FVR library that they have not read. Do a dual entry journal a la Bryce Hedstrom and grade on them on WHAT they did, not how MUCH they did. Give them 10 minutes to read through and switch books before they have to settle on one. Maybe they’ll get to a cliffhanger and have something to look forward to reading next year!

  6. While we’re on the subject of Bryce: Do you do Personal Especial? Why not have them take a picture of each student in the class with their phone and create a google slide presentation – one page per student (or a subset). Then you not only assess their knowledge but you have a pre-made FVR library of kids for next year!

There are so many things you can do, but I urge you to do something that is about INPUT of language or culture. There is no rule saying your final has to be 200 multiple choice questions. Unless there is – in which case you should just move down here and work for me!

Remember kiddies – pain is temporary but language acquisition is forever. As always, YMMV. Please comment with any ideas that you have, and I’ll add them to this list!

Spanish 4 FTW

Recently my level 4 students took the Ap exam. When I asked how it went, one said it was “a breeze” except for the conversation part. Coming from him that’s funny, because in class conversations with me he uses the subjunctive, future, and conditional without much problem (though limited). To me, that speaks of the stilted way that conversation is done by College Board. Truthfully there’s a lot I don’t like about the exam, especially given that in real life you can ask clarification questions, and you’re not listening to a professional broadcast where someone is speaking extra fast. But that’s neither here nor there. Stats on my level 4 kids:

  1. They come to me in level 2 from a grammar teacher who does not do much communication in class, and they came to me VERY novice low – only able to recognize vocabulary, but not be able to produce.

  2. This class was my guinea pig class. I learned how to do CI on them. As such, they didn’t get the best CI instuction I could give. They had me for levels 2, 3, and 4.

  3. Senior-itis was a serious factor.

  4. This was NOT an AP class.

But I’m very confident they’ll get 3s based on what they’ve been able to do in class. I think next year’s group will have a lot of 4s in it. I’ve never had 1 5 ad that was a heritage speaker. Anyway, several have asked how I structure my Spanish 4 and had success with them. Here ya go:

  1. Success with the AP test I feel starts from the moment the kids walk in the door as soon as you get them. With the exception of one film we never watch movies (though I do lots of MovieTalks and music videos). There is no wasted time. Every class from bell to bell is packed with conversation, reading, and story asking. See my previous post on how I plan my level 2 classes for an idea of how I teach in general, but Spanish 2 is all about stories about getting them comfortable and putting as much language in their heads as possible.

  2. In level 3, we do 2 novels, lots of SSR, and a few take-home novels to read. I introduce El Internado when they’re ready, beginning with lots of pre-work stories designed by Mike Peto. I sometimes use the units and activities for the show that he sold on TpT, but I understand that many activities have now been removed. Either way, go to his site and check it out – lots of great materials. We also do a unit on World Poverty I’ve developed based on Eric Herman’s materials, and Socratic Seminars as taught to me by @Michelle_kindt,

  3. In level 4 I continue El internado and socratic circles.

  4. I continue using El Mundo en Tus Manos by Martina Bex. But occasionally sneak in other articles and short news videos.

  5. I still do some stories, but they’re either the more advanced units from Señor Wooly or stories and ideas graciously presented by Joseph Dziedzic and others at They are at least loosely aligned with AP themes and give me a framework for utilizing the subjunctive much more.

  6. Most of every Monday and Friday is just talking with my kids about their weekend and their plans, plus 5 minutes every day. Sometimes we riff these into fantastical stories.

  7. I seriously start stressing the future, conditional, and perfect tenses.

  8. We do tons of SSR. We should do more take home reading than we did.

  9. I think the only novel we did completely was La Calaca Alegre by Carrie Toth. We didn’t do any activities, just read it together and talked about it a bit. We started a bunch of others including En busca del monstruo, but never finished any o them together. They could read it on their own if they wanted.

  10. We read random authentic literature like Cajas de cartón and a bit of poetry to shake things up.

  11. I use units from Teachers Pay teachers from CI pros that I know and respect, like Kara Jacobs, Martina Bex, Kristy Placido, and others. Essentially if they’re a CI teacher, and they have materials, I generally trust it.

  12. We try to listen to podcasts by Native Speakers about certain subjects. Here is an example.

  13. In February, we audit a MOOC (massive open online course) from the website Ed-X called Ap Spanish Language and Culture, run by Boston University. We skip a lot, but the activities are a great template for class discussion and activities.

  14. Finally, in the last 2 weeks before the exam, we practice the actual test. Click here for some practice .

I don’t think there’s a magic bullet, and you can get this done from a lot of different angles. Lots of CI, from varied sources, and constant conversation with your kiddoes will get them there. It’s become pretty plain to me that CI rules, the rest drools. As always, pain is temporary, but acquired language is forever. YMMV.

Advanced volleyball

I use volleyball to not just teach the story, but I especially focus on words like inside/outside, row, left/right, times, etc. So I made a little video in my class. In reality I do this a multitude of ways, but my class helped me show you a couple – lines and circles. The video is totally artificial – normally I would spend a lot more time with each partner but I wanted to make it short without editing. The possibilities for language extension is really limited only by your imagination. My kid get hundreds of reps of left/right/inside/outside, etc over the course of the year.

Click here for the video

Please comment below with suggestions on how to sneak even more language practice into volleyball reading!

What to do when your level 2 class is junk.

Are you a CI teacher who has to teach kids they receive from a “Grammar-is-God” colleague? Brothers and Sisters, this post is for you. (why do I feel like a preacher just now???)

Here’s my story: I teach levels 2-4. The level 1 teacher I work with is not CI focused, and while she has been to a training, watched me in action, has tried it and remarks about how much fun it was when she tried it, and that the kids learned, doesn’t do it. So when students come to my level 2 class and I give them a 10 minute broad-topic writing assessment on the 3rd day of school, like “Tell me anything you can about yourself, your friends, your family, anything in your life – likes/dislikes, anything at all,” I get an average of 8 words per kid. They CAN some recognize vocabulary words when reminded what they are, and have a basic understanding of some verbs, days of the week, etc. Just not in context. So while I should be getting kids at a novice mid/high level, I instead get them at novice low or less. So in my head I call my class Spanish .5 instead of Spanish 2.

So how do I get students up to speed and ready to take the Ap exam by the end of level 4? If you’re a CI teacher experiencing this situation, what do you do?

I asked that same question and the answer I was given that works is, meet them where they are! If that means you get kids in level 3 that aren’t in the intermediate range, you have to adjust. The worst thing you can do is expect them to magically catch up and soldier on. Thence comes behavior and acquisition problems. So you have to find ways to sneak in more advanced stuff as you go, and combine things. So here’s what I do:

  1. I start off the year as I would a level 1 class. 2/10 kids understand ME LLAMO so we get going with names. I know I need to work in basic greetings and part of conversations into every story for the rest of the year. Same with colors, numbers, basic physical characteristics. I created a list of varying vocabulary (nounds, adjectives, adverbs) and add 1 new thing every story. I would verify details and PQA old stuff every time. For example – Is the boy nice or mean? Then in the next story: Is the boy nice or mean? Is the boy clever or dumb? Over time, this build up the list of things they should know. It helps with their 5 minute writes too because they hear a long string of character descriptions.

  2. Doing it in this way will mean much longer character creation. I very quickly get to the point where I spend 1 full 45 minute class period on character creation and PQAing those details. It’s worth it.

  3. I have to adjust my rubrics. I teach on a proficiency basis, but I can’t start my rubric at Novice high or even novice mid. Grades will tank and that shuts kids out. I take Magister Lance P’s rubrics and adapt them ever so slightly because they’re short, simple, and clear.

  4. I am forced to curate their language a bit more. I find it too overwhelming for us to do too much at once. I skew towards the present most of the first semester, but don’t shy away from past or near future. Anything else is the seasoning rather than the meal. It’s there, but not stressed.

Speaking of – I haven’t yet figured out a way to start with a level 2 curriculum and have it work. In the beginning I need smaller, quicker skeleton stories I can build on. Level 2 stories tend to be much longer. So here’s how I solve that dilemma:

  1. For the first semester, I begin with Blaine Ray’s Look, I can Talk! Level 1 curriculum. Stories are small and I can quickly go off script and and skip a mini story here and there when kids catch up. I typically only do through chapter 3, because I’m also doing music, persona especial, Señor Wooly, SSR, etc,

  2. I make every Friday Movie Talk Day. I start with Martina Bex’s Wildebeest talk and then transition to TPRS’ Movie Talk books, sometimes extending the units to a couple days depending. Again, I only do a few from the book since I am doing so many other cultural movie talks, etc.

  3. Then we do Agentes Secretos by Mira Canion. It’s a perfect level 1 novel to accompany the vocab I have taught so far, with very few non-cognates. That pretty well closes out the semester for me.

  4. I do almost no output except encouraging kids to use the language, requiring 1 word responses to direct questions and class questions. I do 1 5-minute timed write MOST weeks and they log their progress. I feel that logging their progress is SUPER IMPORTANT. Spending a year feeling like they can’t communicate makes them despondent and you have to win them over.

  5. Praise the hell out of them with high fives (a la Alina Filipescu) and bribe them with candy for GOOD non-forced output and/or being a good actor.

  6. Rejoinders, rejoinders, rejoinders. They set the stage for continuing conversation and begin implementing advanced language right away. Grant Boulanger you are a miracle worker!

  7. I eschew arbitrary targets like getting 50 reps of a target structure in one 45 minute class. I have to rely on spiraling into a future story to get enough reps.

At this point, most kids are novice high, some are novice mid/high. The next step is to move them towards intermediate low or novice high. That means I have to stay in a much more narrow range of vocabulary, because they still just don’t have enough of a base to deal with it all. A CI approach is already narrow and deep. I stay even narrower and deeper.

I stop using the LICT curriculum and move to Martina Bex’s level 2 curriculum. Finally my kids are level 2! Why the switch? Because A) kids have caught on to the repetitiveness of the stories and B) there are more opportunities for output built in. Yes, output isn’t ideal, but what I like here is that the output is so easy, that the kids don’t stress about it. At least not the way i do it. Other things:

  1. I switch from short animated films to Extr@ for my Friday Movie Talks. Though I also show Destinos to one class because they prefer it. It’s super engaging, there are opportunities for culture, and I quickly hear the language being in used in class.

  2. I don’t do too much culture otherwise. Given that I’m trying to catch kids up, something’s gotta give.

  3. Another thing that goes are games and storyboarding. We do them, just a lot less.

  4. We read Felipe Alou by Carol Gaab. I think including at least 1 book that has a such a strong ethical base, about a person of color, and involves sports really hooks the boys in class. And you know that boys typically shy away from upper level programs. This is the first year I’ve ever had boys in level 4, and I think it’s because I actively work to talk about things boys like.

Ultimately the end result is that kids don’t get nearly enough reps as they would otherwise. Some kids will not reach a level that will allow them to progress to level 3. Truthfully, that’s OK, because most only want their 2 required years and no more. They pass with a C or B and they had a fun year. Those with aptitude or desire do catch up, and often continue.

These are hard choices, but it’s what works for me. Suggestions and comments are appreciated. Remember kiddies: Pain is temporary, but acquired language is forever. As always, YMMV.

Ditch the stupid textbook.

Silvia Rosario recently made this comment about my blog:

  • I’m loving it for keeping it real. Now how you take that leap of faith and start your year without a textbook. What’s your first week or first month of school look like?

That sounds like a great idea for a post! When I was starting out, many teachers had blogs talking about how they scripted out their year, and I benefited greatly from that. To begin, I operate from a couple basic “Laws” that guide my thinking:

  1. I have to live within the realities of my school district and the administrators. Within those guidelines I do my best to get away with everything I can. I am the Loki of the Spanish Teaching World!

  2. I firmly believe that I have to do what works for me and my life OUTSIDE of school. I rarely plan elaborate activities that require lots of paper or spending an hour to create / set up. It’s what keeps me sane.

So, how *I* feel you should set up your year begins with the question: What do you want them to be able to do? And work backwards. For example, I know I want my students to read 2 novels as a whole class, have opportunities for more, get to know each other, and just flat out acquire as much language as possible, including rejoinders and academic vocabulary like DE HECHO or POR EJEMPLO. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order.

So, first thing is to pick the novels. Pick 2 level appropriate books. 1 a bit more complex than the other. Pull out the vocabulary from the teacher’s guides They are always a must buy – they have way more and way cooler activities than you have time to plan on your own. Trust me. Create a list of common vocab they must know to be confident when you get there and make sure you incorporate it through the year.

Otherwise, here are more suggestions:

  1. Hook ‘em hard with something personal or provocative right away. I like to start with Ben Slavic’s circling with balls, but instead I do it with pets. Some kid always has some weird animal. In contrast, I have a dragon. I like to get the fantastical element going right away as it breaks from the general seriousness of high school. I often segue right into a short video, conversation, and reading on Bullfighting. Is it art and tradition, or cruel and torture? They are now mine!

  2. Have a CI based curriculum to either be your backbone or to fall back on. Look, I can talk by TPRS Books or the SOMOS curriculum by The Comprehensible Classroom are my top two choices. I mix and match whenever students get used to routine. This often lasts me through Spanish 3. They’re inexpensive and worth it.

  3. Always, always do a Locura de Marzo (March madness) song bracket. Create your own if possible. If not, Señor Ashby does one.

  4. Speaking of music, there are phenomenal song activities from people like Kristy Placido and Martina Bex. I try to make 1 day a week a music day. Pick a video with a great story and movie talk it and do various activities that you can learn from the IFLT facebook group, et. al..

  5. FVR/SSR as described by Bryce Hedstrom. Low to no production.

  6. Do La Persona Especial. Also by Bryce.

  7. Every Thursday or Friday, talk about what you’re going to do over the weekend and get that future tense rolling. Every Monday, Talk about what you DID to practice the past. There are templates out there for these.

  8. Pick one day a week (I do Friday) and make it your movie talk day. Great ideas for this are Extr@ (youtube), Destinos (old but full of culture and CI), the move talk book from TPRS Books, and the Move Talk Database which is full of ideas.

  9. Find podcasts or youtube channels, and authentic resources such as NEWSELA and Martina Bex’s great newspaper articles.

  10. Señor Wooly and Textivate.

Just these things alone will fill an entire year PLUS. People are always producing free content to help out. Take it all, just make sure you eventually pay it forward. You know the textbooks suck – make the change. Pain is temporary, but acquired language is forever! As always, YMMV.