Too many materials! (part 2- post overflow)

Continuing with last week’s post about too many materials, here is another set of ideas you can use to supplement your teaching.

Reader resources

There is loads of research that demonstrates that reading comprehensible input is the #1 way to foster language acquisition among language learners. If your students are literate in one language, you can use that literacy to cultivate learning in a different language. (It’s a little harder for elementary teachers who have pre-readers.)

  • Blaine Ray – The original set of readers, they have offerings for middle school through upper levels in a variety of languages. I think these tend to be a little drier and predictable, but offer specific cultural lessons in each book.
  • TPRS Publishing – TPRS Publishing is another novel powerhouse (and they have great customer service!) I personally prefer these novels, as they are more interesting to my students while keeping vocabulary in-bounds.
  • Mira Canion – Mira’s works are available from a few different places. Hers are mostly appropriate for lower levels.
  • Santillana Publishing – I haven’t actually used these readers yet, but I plan to add this publisher’s books to my library in the coming months. They are a little pricier, but come with a CD of the audio to save your voice.

Curriculum guidance

I have to preface this section by saying that I make my own curriculum guidelines/scope/sequence/can-do statements/whatever as a department of one. I have previewed these materials but not followed the entire curriculum to use in my classes. However, if you are a new teacher or someone who is making the switch to CI, these materials will be very helpful in making the transition.

  • Cuéntame (TPRS Publishing) – This series starts geared more towards elementary learners, but the beauty of stories is that they can be adapted to any level. (Also available in French.)
  • Look, I Can Talk!/Fluency through TPR Storytelling (Blaine Ray) – This series takes an eclectic approach to teaching. Rather than teaching in any particular order, this series works on high frequency vocabulary. A good start to learning to story-ask, circle, and embedded readings.
  • Somos (Martina Bex) – I haven’t used this, but Martina’s stand-alone products are amazing, so I can’t help but recommend it.

Teachers Pay Teachers

There is sometimes some controversy over teachers marketing their work for payment rather than sharing for free. However, I am a big believer that time is money, friend, and if someone has gone through the trouble of making something so that I don’t have to, I have no problem throwing a fellow teacher $5 here and there. These need no explanation – just check them out!

As luck would have it, at the time of posting, TPT is hosting a TEACHER APPRECIATION SALE!  (Yes, I just realized it was site-wide. I’m a little slow.) Use the code CELEBRATE on May 3rd and 4th to get 28% off everything! Protip: grab some pre-made lessons to keep your sanity during the end of the school year!

I hope all of these materials help you discover a new amazing resource to use in your classroom at the end of this year or during the next.

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Too many materials!

I started teaching in 2010. The 2010s are a great time to be a language teacher. We’ve got youtube, google drive/classroom, twitter, LCD projectors, smartboards, and more leveled readers and stories than you can shake a stick at. And because there are so many options to choose from, it can be extremely overwhelming! It used to be that language teachers had to look through a handful of textbooks and decide which one they preferred, they ordered it, and then they taught it. But now there’s so many options, how do you even know where to start? I mean, curating videos from youtube and making lessons from them could be a full-time job. The upside and downside of the availability of language materials is that literally anything could be used for a lesson, as long as you can make it comprehensible for your students.

With that in mind, many new teachers are looking to graduate and compile ideas for their future classrooms. Veteran teachers are looking forward to another fresh start in the fall. However, none of us have time to comb all the websites for all the potentially useful ideas for all levels and all topics. So in this post, I’m going to share some of my favorite teaching materials to help narrow down the field for both newcomers and veterans. Unfortunately, these materials tend to focus on Spanish language so I hope that all the other language bloggers out there find someone who will do the same for them! I also have easy access to technology in my room, though I know many schools still do not, so your mileage may vary.

Video resources

  • VideoEle – a youtube series designed for Spanish learners. I like it because it designates topics by difficulty level (using the European A/B/C) and has subtitles. The creator has also started going through and remastering some videos with Latin American Spanish as well as the original Spain Spanish, so that’s cool.
  • Señor Wooly – Señor Wooly recently recreated his site from the ground up and it is awesome. The PRO version, though mildly expensive, has been totally worth it in my opinion. Doing one video can easily take a class period or two, and if you do a large number of the included stories, nuggets, and other activities, you could easily stretch one video into a week’s worth of comprehensible input with very little work on your part. Señor Wooly does all the work for you! And, because music is fun, the students don’t even realize they’re learning.
  • Señor Jordan – Even though I have backed off heavily from grammar explanations, there still comes a time when I need to explain a grammatical point to clean up my students’ speech or writing. Señor Jordan has a number of grammar videos with great examples of the concept.

Audio resources

  • Audio-lingua – Audio-lingua is a great resource for all teachers, but especially if you’re a teacher who is full-on comprehensible input only, with no particular thematic units. I love that you can search by length, speaker region, difficulty, or any variety of other parameters. It’s just people talkin about stuff.
  • Spanish Obsessed Podcast – Relatedly, the Spanish Obsessed podcast is also people talkin about stuff. They do a nice job of splitting their podcasts into different levels. I’ve only used a few samples from the intermediate section. As a non-native speaker teacher, I also like that Rob is a non-native speaker conversing with Liz, a native speaker. It helps students distinguish from different accents and emphasizes that you can have an accent and still be perfectly comprehensible.
  • University of Texas listening exercises – For listening exercises, this website is my bread and butter. You can choose to have English, Spanish, or no subtitles available when viewing. I personally like to set it to no subtitles while listening, then going over the full clip together with the Spanish available. Oh, and they’re organized by difficulty level, topic, and have a variety of speakers from different countries to practice those different dialects!

Interpersonal practice

  • Let’s Chat by Patti Lozano – I ordered this book through Teacher’s Discovery. It is chock full of games and other speaking types of activities, written in English with examples in Spanish, French, and sometimes German (but of course, you can always adapt if you teach something else!) One trick is to make sure if the activity itself doesn’t lend to comprehensible input from the students, use their responses and turn it into comprehensible input yourself!
  • Cuéntame Cards – These are another valuable resource. They are the kinds of questions I might ask a student, only… I didn’t have to think of them. I just have one set that I pull cards from to make the set appropriate for whatever level of students. The guide that comes with the card has multiple ways to use the cards. You could also make your own for free, but I’m lazy.
  • Hablemos: 25 Guided Dialogues – I didn’t use this resource as much this year as I would’ve liked, but the premise is good. It’s actually rather similar to the conversational portion of the AP exam. Rather than having students translate or memorize a conversation, these guided dialogues tell students what to say in general (‘greet your friend’ or ‘make plans for the weekend’), and the students have to do the work. It provides a sample conversation for students to check their work against, and also includes some things like crosswords or word searches that might be appropriate for fast finisher activities.

As usual, I have way more resources to share but I’ll save them for a later post. Happy shopping!

Close reading examples with Spanish 2

One of the things I really enjoy about Spanish 2 (and also that is a hard step for the students) is the slow transition from materials created by me or other language educators for language learners, to sources from native speakers for native speakers. We use authentic resources in Spanish 1, but the task is heavily modified for their novice level selves. Beginning in Spanish 2, as we start pushing towards and into intermediate, I start introducing native speaker sources, though sometimes I modify them or use the embedded reading strategy to make them more comprehensible.

The first unit my students really start to see native-level work is in my disasters chapter. It’s very easy to find news reports for all sorts of disasters online, and their difficulty level tends to be pretty low. This year, I continued using a resource that’s a little old at this point but has so many vocabulary terms and cognates, plus the fact that the story is a little crazy (two hurricanes hit Mexico at the same time) makes it comprehensible and compelling. This year, I used my recently acquired close reading strategies to enhance the reading for my students.

  • First, I gave my students the reading only, on paper. (You can find the article and accompanying comprehension questions here.) This can also be done digitally but for the ease of my visual ability to check on them and to discourage translator abuse, I printed them.
  • Then, I asked my students to read it and draw a box around words or phrases they didn’t know.
  • As they read, I also asked them to underline the 3 key points of the article.
  • After the reading, I asked them to compare their underlined sections with their table partner to see if there were any differences. It was interesting for me to see that the majority of students tended to underline the same items, independent of the unknown words they boxed in, and even though they were working individually on this reading.
  • After we did all THAT, I finally handed out the page with the comprehension questions on it, which they completed and then we went over it together. I pointed out that even if they didn’t know a lot of words in the reading, they were still able to comprehend enough to accurately get a basic understanding of the reading, which is really the most they’ll be able to do as novice-high/intermediate-low learners.

Close reading is a strategy that does take some time, but it’s time well spent. It forces students to re-read the passage multiple times and to actually think about and process what they read, rather than just glossing over the text and claiming they understood it. This way, if there actually is a break down of understanding, I can find it and address it.

I hope you find this example helpful and consider ways to use close reading strategies in your own classroom!

An easy weather lesson

Even though I am a comprehensible input teacher, I still follow thematic units. These units tend to follow the pattern of Realidades, the text we used back when I still used one. The real key is comprehensible, engaging, repetitive input, but as a Mega Planner I’m someone who needs thematic units to keep me on track. Otherwise, I would literally just tell stories all day without any rhyme or reason, and I would get myself lost.

In Spanish 1, I still like to hit all the basics (time, weather, colors, etc.) at the beginning of the year because then they are words I know I can throw into stories, or offer as options when teaching new chunks. I only spend 1-2 days on each of these because of course, we are going to hit them pretty much every time we do PQA or a story in the class, and many students in my district come in knowing at least 1-10 and some colors, thanks to Dora.

One way of using authentic resources AND having students feel successful right away is to have them interpret a weather forecast. (I used to do the ‘make a weather’ forecast activity and it was always a mess, because I was asking for way too much output way too soon.) The lesson is really simple and requires little prep work on your end.

After introducing weather phrases (however you choose to do so), introduce a sample forecast. I always choose Brainard, the town where I teach. After that, the lesson might look a little different depending on your technology available. Some different ways of doing it are:

1 – If you have internet access AND the website is unblocked, have students look up cities on espanol.weather.com and browse the forecast. I usually have them do this in pairs or small groups. I also assign them capital cities – Tegucigalpa, Madrid, Mexico DF, Buenos Aires, etc. It’s also a good time to remind them of the seasonal switch in the southern hemisphere, and the time switch in Europe. (So for example, if you’re looking at the forecast at 2 pm your time and it’s the day forecast, it might already be 10 pm in Madrid and showing the evening forecast.)

2 – If you don’t have internet access, you can visit the website on a different computer and then screenshot the cities you want to use. I try to cut out all the ‘junk’ and focus on just the weather information. Since the website is inexplicably no longer loading from my work computer, I used my home computer to do the screencapping and uploaded the images to my Google Drive. Then I printed some copies of each of the cities to distribute to the students.

tegucigalpa9-9

An example of a screenshot I took from espanol.weather.com.

3 – After the students look over their city, I had them present (en inglés) what they thought each section meant. This is a great time to also throw in super-bonus vocabulary like probabilidad de precipitación and humedad.

I really like this activity for two reasons. Number one, it reinforces cognates and the strategy of using what you already know (What does a weather forecast look like in English? How is it set up? What do the pictures represent?) to infer meaning, even if you’ve never seen the words before. Number two, it gives all students a high level of success reading a WHOLE PAGE! of native speaker Spanish within the first few weeks. That feeling of success can help keep them motivated when working through tougher material, so I try to foster it whenever I can.

You could also easily extend this activity in a number of ways. As the groups present, the other students could fill in a chart and then you could ask questions about the different cities. For multiple tenses, you could compare yesterday’s weather to today’s weather to tomorrow’s weather. You could probably even hit subjunctive, for languages that have it, by deciding if it’s possible that it might rain tomorrow, it’s possible it might snow, etc.

I think one of the most fun things about comprehensible input is the variety of ways you can work with just one simple piece of input. What do you think? How do you like to teach weather in your classroom?

Offensive “authentic resources”

In the language learning community, and particularly in the language teaching community, one of our hot-button topics is the idea of authentic resources. The definition and usage of “authentic resources” (authres) varies from person to person. The generally accepted definition is that authentic resources are realia (videos, stories, commercials, whatever) taken from your language/culture of choice and not from the textbook. Some people believe that you should teach only using authres. Others, like myself, believe that authres is just another tool in the toolbox. Then there are others on the complete other end of the spectrum who feel that authres is often not comprehensible input and therefore should be discarded entirely.

But this isn’t about the usage in the classroom. I’m very much live-and-let-live. If a person is happy with their program and feels like their educational tools are working for them, great. The part where they say, “there’s got to be a better way and I need help” – that’s when I step in.

This post is about something that’s been somewhat stuck in my craw ever since I became more active in the language educator community, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it until the lovely Carrie Toth made a post on her blog, Somewhere to Share, earlier this month. (You can go read it first. This is a blog. My words can wait.)

Her first point in that post gave a shape to my discomfort. Something that really bothers me about the hardcore authres-only no-teacher-created-materials position is that the argument discounts all non-native speaker teachers. I try not to take things personally in the teaching world, but this argument is like a suckerpunch. It demeans me. It undermines me. It dismisses all the work I put into learning my second language, especially considering I learned it in the US school system, where we learn bits and pieces of every single culture and dialect of Spanish in the world rather than just the single environment a native speaker grows up with. In English, I am a hardcore grammarian. I am one of those people that, when I learned Spanish, was terrified of sounding stupid. I couldn’t carry a conversation with even the most basic confidence until college because I didn’t want to mess up. It’s also tough for me because I don’t have the vocabulary in Spanish to express myself in precisely the same way I do in English. I am very sensitive to my ability to produce Spanish, even though I’m sure every other non-native speaker has the same fears that I do. Do I sound stupid? Do they know I’m really just making up this word and hoping it’s the right one? Are they going to care that I always put the accent in the wrong place when I say difícil? Probably not.

The problem with immediately discounting materials created by non-native speakers is that it basically says that my Spanish isn’t authentic. My Spanish isn’t real Spanish, it’s gringa Spanish. I’m just a faker. But when I speak it or write it, and native speakers can understand and respond, isn’t that authentic? The argument pokes at that little doubtful hole that is already large enough thanks to my own nitpicky brain; I don’t need other people to make that hole bigger – even though I am sure it’s unintentional 99% of the time. When the majority of language teachers in the US are non-native speakers of the languages they teach, making the argument that only native speakers can offer useful or meaningful teaching materials is a hurtful statement to non-native teachers as individuals and our programs as a whole. It is discourteous to the non-native speakers who spend their precious free time creating materials for everyone to use in the classroom, whether it’s as simple as a blog post or as involved as a novel.

In the end, this isn’t a call to arms to abandon the idea of using authres in teaching. It’s a call to recognize that non-native speakers can offer authentic language experiences too. Just something to consider the next time the authres argument comes up.

Getting the hang of it – a successful lesson

Hello, dear readers! I have been spending most of my last week preparing for (and then going to) my roller derby bout in Minnesota against the Minnesota Rollergirls. Unfortunately, my team got utterly destroyed, but MRG is a very hospitable team and the people in general were exceptionally nice. (Maybe it’s because they’re so close to Canada?) So if any of you are up near the Twin Cities, do yourself a favor and go see the Minnesota Rollergirls at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium. It’s a good time.

In any case, last week I had a fairly successful lesson. It was a lesson-within-a-lesson, if you will. My Spanish 3s were working in their employment unit and I had been sneaking in present perfect under the context of ‘what have you done to prepare for your job.’ While brainstorming, I remembered a very important short story I read in my Mexican Literature class I took when I studied in Mexico. It’s called ‘Nos han dado la tierra’ by Juan Rulfo. I loved his work so much that I chose to write my mid-term essay on his stories, which I still have posted on my fridge because I was so proud of my A in Mexico. ‘Nos han dado’ is only about 6 pages long, and Rulfo wasn’t a serial writer (he released a short novel and a collection of short stories, that’s all) but he wrote a lot about the Mexican Revolution, poverty, work or the lack thereof… see where I’m going here? What a great way to smash a cultural topic, advanced vocabulary, and the target grammar structure all into one lesson!

The unit took about 5 days total, but I think they were 5 well-spent days. Because my students had no background knowledge of the Mexican Revolution, we watched a short video about that. The video I chose is a good source of information, but we also get to have a short discussion on bias, because it is clearly angled from a revolutionary’s point of view.

The second day, we read a short biography that I summarized for my students about Juan Rulfo. His life experiences weren’t as influential in his work as some artists’ lives are, but I still think it’s good for students to know about it. It provides more necessary background knowledge to fully understanding the work.

Finally, the last three days were focused on actually going through the story. I adapted it to fit my class levels. Since my Spanish 3s have such a varying difference in ability, I actually made two adaptations. One thing I found difficult was keeping enough of the original language for my students to understand the flavor and emotion that Rulfo was injecting into his words while still keeping it comprehensible. For this reason, I also wanted them to think in Spanish as much as possible – so much of the beauty of language gets lost in translation. The first day, we grabbed laptops (we will be going 1:1 with laptops next year which will be both awesome and frustrating at the same time) and I had them look up words I had underlined as essential vocabulary. Then I gave the option to write a definition in Spanish for 5 words, or draw a picture for 10. Everyone opted to draw the picture.

The second day was working on pronunciation and our skim-reading. Something I often have students do is just read the article out loud (in groups, in Spanish) with a focus on pronouncing the words correctly. This is a great time to listen for common errors (like my personal pet peeve, speaking wonderful Spanish until running into a number which is instantly put into English – especially dates) and then address them together at the end. Then I handed out the comprehension questions and asked students to get the main gist of each section. I always do my comprehension in English because I want to know whether or not my students truly understand what they’re reading. Otherwise, I often find that they can find and copy the answer, but have no idea what it says.

The last day of the unit, we went over the story together as a class, completely in Spanish. This time, I acted out some parts and put other passages into simpler Spanish to help everyone along. I think next year, I might make little cue cards and have students be my actors as I read through the story. (I didn’t think of that until after we were done with it, of course.) I also decided to give them a quick vocabulary quiz a few days later, but it was intended to be a check for me, not for them. I picked the 10 vocabulary words that were often chosen by the kids to draw, found some images, and had them put the Spanish word with the picture. All but 3 students aced it, so I know that part of my lesson was a success.

Next year, there are a few minor tweaks and changes I’d like, and having full-time access to laptops will change things a bit, but this was a good unit and I’m glad I stopped to take the time to do it. It was far more fun to teach and use present perfect verbs in context (plus mountains of rich vocabulary – which, by the way, included words like tierra, contra, and gobierno that they are now running into when talking about the Venezuela protests which will then lead into our work with the Cuban Revolution later this week.) It sure beats going through yet another worksheet of verb drills.

If you’re someone who is trying to teach with literature and not sure how, hopefully this lesson setup and outline is helpful to you!