Friday, April 27, 2012

Tranquila, está bien

Anteanoche no pude dormir.  Me dolía la espalda y muchos pensamientos revolvían por mi mente. Estudiantes que no han hecho sus tareas, problemas tecnológicas, notas y actividades, el próximo año escolar en un colegio nuevo... Y además, hubo una tormenta tremenda con relámpagos brillantes y truenos ruidosos.  Terrible.

Ayer por la mañana, me sentía agotada. Pero Esposo buscaba algo en su iPod mientras yo comí el desayuno...

-- Encontré a esta canción hace unos días y la he guardado para ti para un día como éste. -- me dijo. Y puso a tocar la canción:

Y entonces no me dolía tanto la espalda, y no me sentía tanto estrés.

Le amo muchísimo a mi esposo.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Turistas (communicative activity)

Wow, it has taken me forever to finish writing about the activities from the numbers/Spain unit that I wanted to share!  This one is my favorite by far, and also a student favorite, which is always exciting.  Half of the students are "tourists" visiting Toledo, Spain and the other half are "tour guides" with information about famous sights in the city.  Each "tour guide" stands in a certain spot in the classroom and the "tourists" work their way around the room "visiting" different sights.  Halfway through, we switch roles so everybody gets to be a "tourist" and everybody gets to be a "tour guide".

My students get really excited when it's their turn to be "tour guides". The "tour guides" each have a card with a color picture of their designated sight on the front and a copy of a real tourist information sheet that I got when I visited Toledo.  Many of them get really into their role and do a great job of "marketing" to the tourists by calling out the name of their place, holding up the picture, etc.

front of a "tour guide" card
Information sheet on the back of each "tour guide" card
When the "tour guides" talk to a tourist, they hold up the card so the tourist can see the front of the card and they can see the information on the back.  Information about their place is highlighted so they can find it easily.  They have to use this information to answer questions from the tourists in Spanish.  Since all numbers are written numerically on the information sheet, the tour guides have to really use their numbers vocabulary (plus all the extra cultural concepts we've learned, such as how to say phone numbers, how to read 24-hour times, and how to say prices) as they give the information.

Here's the original information sheet with no highlighting, in case you want to use it!
The "tourists" have a table with all the questions to ask at the top and rows to fill in information as they visit each place.  They get to record the numbers numerically, which means they have to understand everything their tour guide tells them.  Since these are all useful questions that they might have to ask while traveling or planning a trip, it's really authentic listening and speaking practice.

In addition to being a fun activity because it gets the students out of their seats and interacting authentically, this activity is usually one of the most-repeated answers to "Which activities helped you LEARN the most?" on our end-of-unit survey.

I've created a similar activity for my 6th graders with places around Quito, Ecuador.  (It's a little simpler because they don't learn how to tell time, but it works the same way.)  It takes a little research to create for a place you haven't visited personally, but many cities now have tourist resources posted on their websites that could be used as the basis for activities like this.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thinking Like a Writer

at Two Writing Teachers!
Hello slicing friends, I missed you last week!  Driving home from school last Tuesday, I felt as if a friend had canceled plans for a fun evening together.  I missed reading your stories, laughing and crying at the events in your lives.  I missed filling my writing soul with inspiration from your descriptions, your formats, your wordplay and your crafts.

Although admittedly, I had a mountain of papers to grade, so a part of me was also a little relieved to have one less thing to do.  But I was left with an empty spot inside where the writing should have been... and I had stories to tell.

That's the thing: I always have stories to tell now.  Or ideas that just have to be shared, now that there's someone to share them with.  Or poems that sprout out of my heart and need a page to sink their roots into.

Before the March Challenge, I had already started to re-awaken the writer inside me through slicing on Tuesdays.  But until I forced myself to blog for 31 straight days, I didn't realize how much more was left to awaken.  I had forgotten how deeply writing is a part of me.

The most wonderful and unexpected result of the March Challenge is that I've started thinking like a writer again.  Every day in March, I would search the world for seeds of writing.  I would watch more closely, hear more clearly, smell and taste and feel more deeply.  I would NOTICE.  Then I would sift through the seeds of noticing, weighing them and sorting them in my head, until I found just the perfect way to plant them.

While March is over, the noticing is not.  I see and hear the smallest details, those things that non-writers just walk right by.  I craft the perfect phrases to describe them in my head.  Words tumble and toss around, gathering speed and coming together until I just have to spill them onto a page.

I've written two poems this month: one last week about a very unlikely topic, and one I haven't shared yet (it's coming soon, I promise!).  I wrote two during March as well.  I wrote one last summer when I first started blogging.  Before that, I hadn't written a poem in nine years.  From late elementary school through high school, poetry used to spurt out of me at all hours of the day and night.  But as I got older and busier, I started silencing the poems.  I didn't have time to write a poem!  I had to write a paper or practice my horn or read or sleep or make lesson plans or grade papers!  Pretty soon I stopped noticing the seeds that poems come from.  I stopped watching the world in a writerly way.

I'm so glad I've found those seeds again.  I'm so glad I can see and hear and feel again.  I love to have words spinning and dancing and sprouting into poems in my head again.

Thank you.

Friday, April 20, 2012

¿Y hay fincas hoy en día?

Hace unos días en la clase de ESL, leímos un cuento que se situaba en una finca.  Mientras rellenábamos los elementos literarios del cuento con los estudiantes, tuvimos la siguiente conversación sobre el escenario:

Mr. B. -- ¿Y dónde se situa el cuento?
estudiante -- En una finca.
Mr. B -- ¿Y cuándo?
otro estudiante -- En el pasado.

(Mr. B y yo nos miramos.  Pensamos que el cuento se situa en el presente.)

yo -- ¿Por qué el pasado?
estudiante -- Porque se situa en una finca.

(Ahora Mr. B y yo nos intercambiamos miradas de sorpresa.)

Mr. B -- ¿Y hay fincas hoy en día?
TODOS los estudiantes lo negaron con la cabeza.

(Casi me soltó una carcajada, pero sólo me escapó una sonrisa.)

Mr. B -- ¿Entonces, de dónde viene la comida? ... y ¡no me digan del supermercado!

Ojalá que fuera posible llevar toda la clase a una finca...  Cada día los estudiantes me recuerdan que no podemos presuponer qué saben... nunca.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hometown Hero

We pile down the stairs,
more silent than a fire drill.
We pour out the double doors,
no pushing, no shoving.
We blink in the bright sunlight,
no giggling, no shouting.

We gather at the curb,
lining the street in front of our school.
The little ones from the elementary
next door stand waiting at the curb.
No wiggling, no squirming.

Principal and his assistant
grunt quiet directions.  In suits.
They are not suit-wearing principals.
(I can count on one hand the times
they've worn suits in three years.)

A huge flag drapes solemnly
from a hook-and-ladder truck.
Just like September 11, I think.
Smaller flags dance in the breeze
from lightposts and in children's hands.

Regular people from the community
gather on the other side of the street.
Moms with strollers, men in suits.
As far as I can see down the hill,
this main street is covered in people.
Silent, waiting, respectful.
Hands on hearts, standing straight and proud.
The whole town coming together to honor
one of our own, whether we knew him or not.

Suddenly, it arrives.

First, a pack of tough-looking veterans
rev their flag-draped motorcycles.
I blink rapidly.

Then that awful black
strangely shaped

My eyes are filling fast.

The first cars are the closest family members...
sweet-looking ladies clutching tissues.
Now I have to keep biting my lip.
I don't see the little girls but they must be here...

Old ladies, tough middle-aged men,
active-duty soldiers in full dress attire.
They just keep coming.
Some inhale and put their hands up to their mouths
when they see all of us filling the curb.
Some gesture toward us,
their passengers nodding.
A couple of men in berets wave from a backseat.
A burly man reaches up with his finger
to wipe a tear behind his sunglasses.
Some just collapse into their tissues and hankies.

Cousin's husband is over THERE right now...

Sedans, SUVs, sports cars, vans, trucks.
A shiny black Mustang, a beaten-up Jeep.
Funneling into the historic graveyard,
circling almost back around to our street.

Melancholy bagpipe strains waft through the graves,
their soft melody loud in the silence.
          21 CRACKS!
The kids beside me flinch.

42 older cracks echo inside my head.
21 from sharp Marines in dress-blues for Grandaddy,
21 from rickety-but-loyal Legion men for Grandpa.

All at once, the suited principals
wave us inside.  Normal traffic comes.
No shouting.  No giggling.

A heavy silence hangs in the classroom.
"Why did all the cars have their blinking lights on?"
                 "Were ALL those people going to the funeral?
"Some of the people in the cars were crying.  I saw their tissues."

I'm proud of our students.  I'm proud of our town.
I'm proud of our heroes across the country and around the world...
especially those who come home to the sound of 21 guns.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mixed-up Day (hands-on reading activity)

During our numbers/time unit, my 7th graders practice reading times with a hands-on time sorting activity that I created.  Originally, it was just a worksheet where they read the Spanish times and wrote what they meant as numbers, then ranked them to put them in order from early morning through night. 

One day, while watching volunteers drag the time phrases in order on the SMARTboard to check the worksheet, I realized that the whole activity would be so much better and more fun if everybody could physically drag the phrases.  So, I printed out all the Spanish time phrases in a larger font, cut them out and made them sturdier with construction paper and lamination, and this hands-on reading activity was born.

Each pair of students gets a set of cards with Spanish times that include a.m./p.m. phrases and they work with their partner to arrange the cards going down through a day, with midnight at the top and late night at the bottom.  I give them wet-erase markers so they can write the times on the cards as they work, if they want.

hands-on learning in progress!
At this point, we haven't yet learned "midnight" and "noon" but there's a card for each in the set for them to "guess".  It's fun to listen to them figuring these out since they already know "día", "noche" and have recently learned "y media" for "half past", so they usually get it!

Being able to manipulate the cards makes the activity incredibly more engaging than a worksheet (especially for middle schoolers!) and fuels collaboration.  I love listening to the pairs negotiating meaning and seeing them utterly absorbed in moving the cards into the correct order. 

We still check on the SMARTboard with the "Sentence Arrange" activity from the gallery, but even that is better because they can literally make sure the screen looks just like what's on their table.  The activity makes way more sense and (hopefully) sinks in a lot more since they get to physically arrange the phrases.

Later I'll share some more examples of hands-on learning from other units!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


at Two Writing Teachers!
Lately I've been feeling overwhelmed.  Spring Break is a distant memory and Easter celebrations with family turned a long weekend into a short weekend.  I glanced through the slices already posted today and yearned to be some of you who are just now starting or finishing your Spring Break!  Mine already feels as long ago as Christmas.

The normal busy-ness of school has been kicked up several notches in pure it's-almost-the-end-of-the-year-but-not-quite-yet fury.  Close enough to state testing for everyone to start passing around contagious stress, close enough to the end of the year for class time to start being interrupted and eaten away by a million little end-of-year assemblies and events, but not close enough yet to feel like it's just one last big push until we all get to relax.

Not to mention, traveling between rooms makes me feel like I'm running around all day like a chicken with its head cut off. Pack up the cart, roll to the next room, madly run around setting up supplies and passing out papers while answering questions from three different students who want to talk to me while I'm trying to get the class started on their first activity, put away first activity, move on to the rest of the lesson which can finally run like a normal class until it's almost over and I have to clean things up again, pack up the cart while dealing with kids who have something to tell me after class, speed off down the hallway.... and do it all again!  And again.  My head is spinning by the time I finish a couple back-to-back classes!

It's infinitely harder to help students, ask students about missing work, check in with students who need to do retakes and redos, etc. when I have to run around setting up and putting away everything in the midst of the lesson instead of before and after.  I have so many extra little things to do that some days I just look right past the five different sticky notes on my clipboard reminding me to collect missing work and check in with kids.  Plus, I don't get a second between classes to clear my head, take a deep breath, glance at my lesson plans, or remind myself to chat with so-and-so about that assignment, because I'm scurrying off down the hallway with my pieces of my brain bouncing along behind me (or so it feels).

I don't mean to complain.  After all, I am an Outstanding Cart Ninja and I really love my job. (Most days...)  It's just an extra dose of exhaustion and stress that's not there when I have a room.  It's frustrating to not be able to use routines and procedures that would benefit my students simply because there's physically no way to implement them. It's devastating to feel like I'm not the best teacher I could be, that I'm not as free to spend all my instructional time closely helping students, that I'm failing to support my retake/redo/make-up/missing assignment/absent students as much as I could.

Did you ever watch Saved by the Bell?  I totally need that magical ability that Zack had where he could say "FREEZE!" and everyone around him would just stop so he could reflect, fix things, plan his actions, or whatever he needed to do.

Or I need to become less of a perfectionist.  I think I have a better chance yelling "FREEZE!"

Monday, April 9, 2012

En Sevilla... (pair speaking activity)

Last week I shared a writing activity my 7th graders do with places in Madrid.  I was hoping to share a few more of my favorite activities from that unit, but life got in the way, as it often does.  So finally, a few days late, here's another activity I'm proud of: "Sights in Sevilla".

In this partner activity, students ask and answer questions to exchange information about famous sights in Sevilla, Spain.  I used this authentic information sheet from my trip to Sevilla (it's from the back of a map) to create the activity.
original Sevilla info sheet
Partner A and Partner B each have modified information sheets with critical information blacked out for SOME of the sights. (Thus, A can see information that B can't see and vice versa.)
(Partner A & B info sheets w/ opposite blacked out info.)

Each student has to ask his/her partner for the missing information (related to our numbers/time vocab) about each designated sight: opening time, closing time, and phone number.  (i.e."What time does the Museo Taurino open?" etc. -- you can see an example above the chart screenshots below.)  To answer the partner's questions, the student must find the correct information about each of the partner's sights on the info sheet.  Of course, all asking & answering MUST be done in Spanish!  While listening to their partner's answers, students record the information (numerically) in the following charts:

Partner A's chart to fill in
Partner B's chart to fill in
After both students have exchanged all the information about their sights, I have them pick two sights that they'd like to visit.  They have to work together to write about what the sight is and why it's important / why they'd want to visit it.  As in the Madrid activity, I run a self-scrolling PowerPoint with pictures of Sevilla on the big screen throughout the activity.  And just like that activity, students really respond to the realia and enjoy learning about the sights much more than if they were just exchanging made-up numbers and times to practice vocabulary by itself!

I love info-gap activities for so many reasons:

  • students have a real reason to communicate
  • they get to ask/answer questions they might actually ask & answer in real life
  • having a specific task to complete keeps them on-task 
  • designing the activity around vocab they are practicing keeps them in the target language
  • they get to practice both speaking and listening at the same time!
  • since it's a pair activity, students often correct/help each other with language usage

In fact, I love them so much that my students end up rolling their eyes when it's time to do another one... but the vast majority of students always list them under "What helped you LEARN the most?" in our end-of-unit surveys!  (Even students who don't list them under "What activities did you LIKE the most?" -- although many students include them there as well!)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Viernes Santo

Hoy es Viernes Santo.  En España, la Semana Santa es mucho más religiosa y grave que aquí en los EEUU.  Aunque no soy católica, me encanta la veneración de las tradiciones españolas de esta semana.

Mientras estudiaba en Madrid, mis padres vinieron para visitarme durante la Semana Santa.  El Viernes Santo, miramos la procesión de la hermandad del Santísimo Cristo de los Alabarderos, cuando pasó por la Plaza de la Villa de Madrid.  Yo sé que las procesiones de Sevilla son más famosas, pero ésta fue tremenda.

Los nazarenos (o penitentes) llevan unos capirotes como símbolo de su penetencia. (foto mía)

La Guardia Reál se ha acompañado a esta hermandad desde 1803.(foto mía)

El "paso" pesa más de una tonelada. 32 costaleros lo llevan por las cuatro horas que dura la procesión: cada costalero tiene que soportar 30 kg. (información de la página de la congregación) (foto mía)
La Guardia Real también provee la música lúgubre. (foto mía)
Al final vienen las manolas, mujeres vestidas con la mantilla tradicional del luto español. (foto mía)
Es un espectáculo impresionante, bello, y emotivo.  Me encantó.  También me encantaron las torrijas que hizo mi "mamá española" para los desayunos de esta semana.  ¡Qué ricas!

Para mi, la mejor descripción de las tradiciones de esta semana viene de un folleto que recibí en esta semana del Archidiósis de Madrid: "Son fé que se hace cultura, expresión estética de un corazón creyente."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Next year

at Two Writing Teachers!
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that my current position is being cut due to my district's levy failure.  A couple of weeks ago, I found out for sure that I have a job for next year, but I didn't know what that job would be...

... until just a few days ago!  I now know that I'll be teaching high school Spanish next year (no idea what levels yet!) at the high school I graduated from.  It will certainly be a new and exciting experience for me to be in one school for the whole year!  I'm somewhat nervous, as the only time I taught high school was way back in student teaching, and I've never had the same students for an entire year. 

The current principal of the school was the assistant principal while I was a student, and I emailed him to let him know that I'm excited for this opportunity.  He made me feel a lot better with his reply:

His enthusiasm is contagious and I really am looking forward to being in his building.  The magnitude of the change is enough to give me a strange feeling in my stomach, and I'll miss my sweet 6th & 7th graders immensely, but hopefully it will turn out to be a really positive experience!  (Besides, it will be amazing to really "belong" to one building for an entire year!)

Monday, April 2, 2012

What's on in Madrid? (writing activity)

My 7th graders are currently working on numbers and time vocabulary.  During this unit, I've created lots of activities that integrate culture into language practice.  I'm really proud of these activities because they exemplify what I believe language learning should be: culture and language woven together.  Since one of my goals is to blog more about what goes on in my classroom, I'd like to share some of these activities.  (A quick note: all of these activities are about Spain because that's our current country focus in 7th grade. I do similar activities about Mexico and Ecuador with my 6th graders when they do numbers.)

Today's peek into my classroom: a writing activity based on a real guide of "What's on in Madrid?" that I got while I lived there. (You can download current and past issues of the pamphlet on the Madrid VCB webpage.  Be sure to check out all the other awesome resources on the page while you're there!) My students get to choose from several pages that I've copied for them from my pamphlet: such as "Museums and Parks" and "Food and Flamenco".

one of the guide pages my students can choose from
They choose several places from their pages that they are interested in and then must use the information to fill in a chart about each place: name / phone number / opening time / closing time / basic description.
Students fill in one row for each place they choose.
For this activity, I let them work individually, with a partner, or in a small group -- their choice.  Since all the numbers in the guide are written numerically, students have to practice their vocab to write out all the numbers in Spanish, as you can see from my example in the picture above.  In addition to the writing practice, they learn that saying phone numbers is different in Spanish-speaking countries than it is here (you have to use two-digit and 3-digit numbers) and that some Spanish-speaking countries use military time for schedules.  They also learn "a la/las..." for "at" a certain time (instead of "It's" a certain time right now).

And of course, they get to learn more about Madrid!  (We do this activity the day after we watch the part of a video about Spain that focuses on Madrid, so they have some background knowledge about the city.)  Students who choose "Museums/Parks" get a peek at some of the famous places to visit in Madrid, and the students who choose "Food/Flamenco" get to learn about Spanish foods from the restaurant descriptions.  I also run a self-scrolling slideshow with pictures of Madrid on the projector while they work so they can see more sights.

As with all culture-vocab combination activities I do, students are WAY more intensely engaged than if they were just practicing the language by itself!