Leveling up

When a gamer beats a level of a game and moves on to the next level, it is called “Leveling up”. In certain games, you can increase your chances by earning more points, collecting coins, or obtaining specific weapons to help you defeat the opponent.  Gamers have their strategies on what they need to do to level up. Our students also need to know what strategies they have as language students so that they too can “level up” on the ACTFL proficiency levels. Does a novice student know what they need to do to work their way up to the intermediate level?

My initial inspiration for this post started many months ago when I saw a tweet by Bethanie Drew (@lovemysummer) when she posted a link to her blog with placemats for “Weekend Chats“. In her document, she included this:

This encouraged students who were ready to add to their simple sentence by adding more details. I realized that students don’t know how to level up their language. In order to show higher proficiency, students must realize what that looks like. A few months into the school year, I went over the ACTFL proficiency ratings and its cone shape and that the more input a student has the more advanced their language will be. Then we went over this presentation.

Then I gave students sample sentences and had them work with partners to come up with the extra details.
You can download a copy of the presentation or the student handout sheets, which includes the as pictures above or a blank copy if you wish to fill it out as a class.

Take a look at how the following sentences were “leveled-up”:


Another way to talk about proficiency is to use the ice cream cone imagery, to encourage students to “Add an extra scoop” of language. See our previous post “Get a scoop of proficiency” which includes a free download of posters explaining the different proficiency levels.

Leave it to Bethanie, who also would go on to blog about this later as well. Look at her strategy to encourage better writing in her students, in her blog post “Level Up Language Framework (Structures to support student learning and teacher sanity, part 6)

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FVR Reading Log

One new thing that I implemented this year with FVR was a reading log. On one side of the sheet of paper I have all the books listed and on the other side is a chart that students can use to keep track of what page number they left off on. The following week, they can check their log and pick up on the page they left off, and when they are done, they can put a checkmark or write the date they finish.

As we come back from winter break, I have a new updated sheet for my students. This includes a tracking of the number of books they read each trimester as well as a place to count the number of words they read in Spanish.

I am posting what it looks like. You are welcome to make a copy of this document and edit it based on the books in your classroom. (Click on image, and then make a copy). This sheet is the only “accountability” factor that needs to result from FVR. But I think it also serves as a way for students to track their growth in reading. Continue reading

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Online timer as CI

I was recently doing a write/pass/draw activity where I wanted to use a timer to give the class a limit. I usually just use google timer or the regular classroom timer where it counts down on a clock. Previously, I had used another fun timer where you can change the music to the Pink Panther, Mission Impossible, or Indiana Jones among others.

But today as I was looking at the online classroom timers, it sparked a CI idea. They offer races such as a bicycle race, a sack-race, truck-race, robots and many more! I thought that this would be an interesting discussion in the target language: Who do you think is going to win the race?

You could talk about colors, numbers (ordinal), and even descriptions.

Take a look at this example:

Do you think the boy with the blue shirt will win? Do you think the 3rd person will win? Right now, the red-haired girl is in 2nd place? Will the boy with the blue bike pass her? Will the boy with the blue helmet finish last? Will he go faster?  Who is in first place right now? All of these questions can be asked and answered in the TARGET LANGUAGE. You can then ask students if they agree or disagree with their classmates. And the end, you can discuss which student was right.  Check out the timers here. Continue reading

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Proficiency Mindset Presentation




This past month, at the Illinois Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) annual fall conference, I gave my first presentation in a session titled “Proficiency Mindset”. To view the presentation click: http://bit.ly/ProfMindset

Let me know if you have any questions or feedback.

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An output activity

Partner Retell story swap

Over the past two weeks, we have done several stories: including Senor Wooly’s La Invitación, La Confesión de Víctor, a movietalk for El Gato con Café, a Movietalk and Story for Bomba’s Estereo Soy Yo video, and a PictureTalk for Biblioburro.

In addition to the class story, students have also practiced on quizlet and answered comprehension questions while watching the video on Edpuzzle.com. They have had sufficient input and this allowed us to move to the next step…. output.

I took screen shots of important parts from each story and created a page for each story. This serves as a reference sheet for students. You can view that here: StoryRetell_PicturePrompt. Then I had the students get with a partner. Each group had 1 sheet of paper to write on and I passed out the picture prompts of the stories. The student rotated roles: One student was the writer and the other student was the storyteller. Continue reading

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Top 10 Novels for Spanish 1

One of my favorite things in my Spanish 1 class is implementing Free Voluntary Reading time (FVR) aka SSR. It is probably the most important thing we do in class. If you need convincing of that, then you need to read The Power of Reading by Dr. Stephen Krashen or read any of his free articles about the topic.

Many teachers are overwhelmed by the number of choices. If you are able to, start building your library. Whatever you can get your hands on. Buy as much as you can each year if you have department money or write whatever grants you can. In the meantime, I can going to post my personal favorites.

Again, these books are the ones that appeal to me or to my students. I encourage you to share your own lists of your favorites. (Pssst…That’s the best part about free reading is that students have a choice!)
Top 10 Spanish Novels FVR

Justin’s 10 Favorite Spanish learner Novels

1. Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro by Carol Gaab, FluencyMatters

Continue reading

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Story with 5 Phrases

I was going through some old blog posts the other day and happened upon one that reminded me of an activity that I learned from Carol Gaab at the first annual Comprehensible Midwest. I ended up using it as a lesson on Friday and it was one of the most fun days I’ve had this year so far!

How to do a 5 Phrase Story in a CI classroomI started with 5 phrases. We had already finished the book Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro and just done a story using the song Fotografia so I selected these 5 phrases to incorporate some of the key verbs we’ve been using lately and continued to expose my students to direct object pronouns in context (don’t worry, no grammar explanation was needed).

The 5 phrases were:
Continue reading

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Chapter Recaps with Images

This year I hit the gates running with a class read of the Fluency Matters novel “Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro”, a super easy and fun reader.

I usually like to act the chapter out before having the students read it. I narrate as I tell the student actors what to do and what they say. The class can see what is happening and it makes it easier when they read it by themselves, or when we follow along as we listen to the audiobook.

But I do like mixing it up and doing different activities. So for chapter 6, before students read the chapter, Continue reading

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Timed Writing Prompts

If you purchased our World Language SLO product earlier this summer, make sure you have redownloaded the updated product, as we added a second picture prompt in late August.
Timed Writing Picture Prompt for World Langauge

The characters in the first prompt are designed to be ambigious. Some students use the following words to talk about them: osos, monstruos, personas, familia (and then mamá, papá, hijos)  The idea is that is it up to them. I would recommend NOT going over the images beforehand, because they are then going to just write about what you’ve told them. As the year goes on, they will have more language to be able to talk about the scenes. At the beginning of the year, they may not have much…. and that’s ok. The idea is to show growth and for the students to write what THEY SEE and what they know to talk about.

Some key phrases that students might talk about in Spanish (although this prompt can be used for any language): Hay una familia, hace calor, Van a la playa, quieren nadar, ven algo en el agua, tienen miedo, los niños tienen hambre, quiere pizza, toma algo, juegan fútbol, le gusta el fútbol, busca los niños, llueve, van al cine, quieren ver una película de horror.

If you use our prompt, we would love for you to add your class averages for each timed writing to the google doc linked in the download.

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4 million

During last week’s first days of school, our blog passed the 4 million total views mark. Wow, what an honor to know that thousands of Spanish teachers around the world have visited our blog. We are truly amazed to see the wide range of countries that our visitors originate from. 

We started this blog 8 years ago in November of 2010. We are thankful to those first 82 views we received that month. In one year’s time our reach had grown to 11 thousand in the month of November.  This November we expect over 40 thousands page views.

It has been a pleasure to share what I am doing in my classroom, and even those blogs posts that don’t get many hits still allow me to reflect on my own practices, something that I am thankful for.  So let’s talk a look back and celebrate, and give our guests a chance to win some prizes.

Some highlights:

Some of our most viewed pages:

  • We originally posted teacher memes, that we have since moved to their own website, Spanish Captain is Si-sick, chiste from SpanishPlans.orgTeacherMemes.com, but our Spanish Chistes are a big hit as well, featuring 20 cheesy Spanglish jokes.
  • Originally posted in 2011, this post talks about 6 different Spanish Projects, including our popular Facebook Spanish Profile Project.
  • In 2013, we started posting a collection of resources for thematic units, and LA ROPA unit and LA COMIDA unit are the two most visited.

Some of our most participated posts:

  • Every year, our post on Why We Don’t Give Spanish Names gets shared on social media and people sure have their opinions. It’s why it’s our most commented post.
  • One of my favorite things all year is the March Music competition, where hundreds of teachers joined us in our 2018 March Music Madness challenge. While thousands of teachers across the US now do their own tournament, it was THIS POST on this blog in 2014 that set the waves in motion. This may be our single biggest impact in Spanish classrooms across the US.
  • Other posts that sparked discussions with comments include our take on Cinco de Mayo (2011) as well as Attributes of Effective WL teachers (2014).

Ok, so let’s get to the fun part. What does this celebration mean for you? Well, to celebrate we are giving away the following prizes: Continue reading

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