Last fall, I attended the annual NILA (Nebraska International Language Association) conference in Omaha. Unfortunately, I was sick, so I only ended up going to two sessions and leaving after lunch. However, one of the sessions was called Shine a New Light on the Classics: A Lazy Teacher’s Guide to a fun class. This session was hosted by my fellow UNL alum, Marcie Castillo, and some other teachers from Lincoln North Star. This session was built around taking two legacy staples of language teaching – the worksheet and the flash card – and making them into more engaging versions with little or no prep work on your part.

One of the games that they introduced to us was Brillo! (or Sparkle, if you’ve played the English version). While the original Sparkle game is apparently some sort of spelling game – I’ve never played – this one uses flash cards. I am going to take a moment here because yes, I know that flash cards are not always the best form of comprehensible input and they have no context. However, they are very simple to make, my students like competitive games, and sometimes it’s just nice to have an easy, fun day. I am okay with veering a little bit away from the paragraph-length input for a while if we’re still getting things done.


In any case, here’s how you play Brillo (or whatever word you want to substitute in your language).

  • Make some flash cards (or use old ones lying around).
  • Add some cards that say BRILLO. I have small classes, so 5 was a good number. If you have more than 15, you probably will want to add more.
  • You show the first student the card. They answer. If they’re right, they stay in. If they’re wrong, they’re out. Move on to the next student. So on and so forth.
  • When a student gets a BRILLO card, all they have to do is say BRILLO and the student AFTER them is out.
  • Continue until someone is the winner!

I really like the concept of the BRILLO card because it can be boring and disheartening for slower processors in a competitive game, especially if there’s a time component. It’s no fun for the same handful of students to win all the time. So the BRILLO card adds a bit of randomness into the process. Students who know more of the words will have a chance to stay in longer, but a BRILLO card can knock them out and let other students have a turn to shine.

This is a good activity to keep in the back of your mind for those days when your planned plans just aren’t working or you change your mind at the last minute.

It’s an interpersonal blitz!

A while back, the wonderful and talented Amy Lenord shared her interpersonal blitz powerpoints and ideas. I am so grateful that she shared this information, because I think it’s one of the best ways to practice informal interpersonal speaking. Interpersonal speaking is probably the most useful of the modes for real life usage, but I think it’s also the hardest to master (at least for Romance languages). It’s very easy to get caught up in trying to make each sentence perfect rather than just getting words out there and communicating. Although I agree that input is vital for language acquisition, practice is also necessary for production. Many of my students are intimidated and won’t speak Spanish unless I give them a bit of a push. So, the interpersonal blitz activity is that push. It’s perfect for speaking practice on typical topics – hobbies, favorites, significant others, family members. I also love that the activity can be used/modified for any level of speaker by giving just enough guidance to narrow things down, but more proficient speakers tend to naturally elaborate more.

So here’s how I use it:

  • I project Amy’s pre-made slideshow on the projector.
  • Depending on the speaker levels, I give prep time. For my novices, I like to give them 1 minute of prep after posting the topic where they can write questions and potential answers on a sheet of scratch paper. That way, even if they’re not pushing into intermediate where they can ask questions, they can still have something to talk about without spending the whole time thinking of what they’re going to say. Intermediates don’t really need the prep time; they’re proficient enough in asking basic questions (with the help of my word wall) that they can be spontaneous.
  • Give students time to talk. I keep it around 1 minute for novices, 1:30-2 for intermediates (depending on that particular class’s strength).
  • We normally only do about 10 rounds (20ish minutes) – any more and they start to shut down.
  • A modification I sometimes make is to do it speed-date style where some of the students rotate, so everyone can talk to a different partner each time.

My favorite part, though, is watching my students have fun AND use Spanish in the classroom. We did this with my Spanish 3s the other day and it made me so happy to see my students laughing and joking in the language. The slideshow is also great filler for a lesson that ends up being too short, or a no-prep activity on a day where you’re pressed for planning time. As we start to wrap up the year, we often end up with not enough time to do a full unit but too much time before prepping for final assessments, and this activity fills that gap nicely.

Locations markerboard game


El oso está en el estante. Está encima de las revistas y a la derecha de los libros.

Recently in Spanish 1 we had a quiz over location prepositions. Normally this falls within the boundaries of unit 4 which ends the first semester, but I missed over a week of school this fall for various activity and medical things. (Not all at once, thankfully! But a day here and a day there sure adds up.) So then I had this weird little section where I needed to cover things, but it’s not enough for a full sized test. A bonus to this conundrum is I was teaching the school unit – a particular target for teachers who argue against ‘legacy’ teaching. The argument against ‘legacy’ units like stuff around the school is that it’s not useful and super boring. But it doesn’t have to be useless or boring! After all, how many of us have to ask our students where their pencil is, where the paper is, and so on? It’s part of the normal classroom patter we use every day.

Thursday’s activity (after a few days of comprehensible input) was a simple game that you can play in your classroom with zero prep. Here’s what you do:

1) Use something as your main object to be located. In my case, I have a drawer full of various stuffed animals that I had placed around the room yesterday when we practiced as a group. (This is also a great way to reinforce animal vocabulary and if you’re feeling really spiffy, you can do some quick group mega-easy-by-now questions like ‘Is it a cow or is it a monkey? What color is the monkey? Is the monkey big or little?’)

2) Put your kids into groups. Give each group a markerboard.

3) Place the object somewhere around the room. Make a big deal out of it.

4) Set a timer for 1 minute per round.

5) Each group has to write a sentence about where the object is (no notes!). My very competitive period 3 class enjoyed trying to one-up each other. They went from something like ‘The bear is on the table.’ to ‘The bear is on the chair and underneath the table.’ To make sure everyone was participating and not just the superstars doing all the work, a different student in the group had to write each time.

6) Here’s where you can get creative. I gave one point per correctish sentence. (I didn’t take off for missing or incorrect el/la/de or spelling.) You could give more points for perfect sentences, correct use of accent marks, or bonus creativity. For example, if another group wrote the same sentence, their points cancelled each other out. I liked to put it in a place where there were multiple correct answers to get them thinking about different ways they could answer. Plus, this works on communication strategies – if you can’t remember how to say what you originally wanted to say, how can you restate it and still be understood?

7) Preferably, everyone writes great sentences and then they’re all winners!