Spanish 1: Where do I begin?

I teach in a school that has a K-12 Spanish curriculum. Students get a strong background of Spanish language and culture before arriving at my doorstep in the high school. Like any other school, we have new students, transfer students, homeschool switching to public school students, along with the OG students who have been here since day 1. That puts a little wrench in the K-12 program! I had to design Spanish 1 so that my K-8 program kids weren’t “bored”…and the new kids weren’t completely “lost”! That got me to thinking: Where do I begin?

I decided to focus on an extension of greetings: move past the “estoy bien/mal” and push to “tengo hambre”, “estoy frustrado”…and I teach Spanish-speaking countries, capitals, and their location on a map. It’s hard to spend a whole unit asking each other how we’re feeling, and what’s your name…and I can’t express how important I think that it is for students to BE CULTURALLY AWARE of the Spanish-speaking countries of the world!

I push them to learn 20: from Argentina to España to Venezuela (yes, I make them learn it as España, we rarely say “Spain” en mi clase!!) – This gives us a base to start from when we start learning about different famous Hispanics, foods, cultural celebrations…they need a visual of where these places are. I think our kids are better off for it, too!

I never leave the Spanish-speaking countries, capitals, and map theme throughout their entire year of Spanish 1. It is heavily tested in my Yo Puedo assessments every unit (hola, Yo Puedo review section 😉) We practice it every day (gracias, Quizlet) and it becomes a “normal” routine in our class.

Please don’t assume that kids already know this material. It is so important that we show students that these countries are unique and important.

Check out my TpT page to find extra practice assignments for Spanish-speaking countries, capitals, and locations on a map!

Where did that year go?

I started this blog last summer. Life has its way of getting busy and chaotic…and here I am 1 year later, starting to think about the next school year. I find that I usually need a mental break after school gets out in June – I march through graduation, enjoy all of the moments and goodbyes, pack up my classroom and let out a big sigh. Committing myself to this career is physically and emotionally draining, and I need to let my battery recharge for a few weeks. After a little R&R, I find myself inspired by #langchat posts on Twitter, or think of other ways to teach something…and I’m right back at it again!

This year was no different. Well, actually, it was A LOT different. In November, I took 34 students and 10 adults to Panamá! It was awesome! Then we were smooth sailing…until March. The world stopped.

Even though our school building was closed, school definitely was NOT. We had daily lessons, Zoom class calls 2 days per week, virtual staff meetings…the screen fatigue was real! Looking at my lessons, I’m constantly thinking now about how to change things to make them “Google Classroom”-friendly. How can they turn in those vocabulary descriptions virtually? How can I be sure that this is my student’s work and not his/her friend’s assignment? Are they really learning?

Be on the lookout for more lesson ideas and links to my TpT store. What would you like to see? Comment below!



¡Sí Se Puede!…Part 3

There are definitely advantages and drawbacks of anything that you do in your classroom.
Yo Puedo is not an exception.

Like I said, when I started this journey, I wanted to hear my students speaking Spanish more, engaging more, sharing the vision that I had for their learning.

Yo Puedo forces students to speak. It forces them to practice, research, try again on occasion, and know what they’re doing. They MUST be engaged and open to feedback if they want to improve. I have seen it work. I have seen students who actually like using it because it’s a guide for them and something to rely on for the class. I’ve thought about how something like this would work in other classes – can you imagine if there was a Yo Puedo version for math class?!? How cool would it be if kids had to explain how to solve a quadratic equation or how to find the zeroes on a graph or why the “special triangles” have the measurements that they have? (Former math teacher here…did I forget to mention that? 😎)

There will always be students who, unfortunately, choose not to engage. They choose to “check the box” and don’t see the connection between what you’re working on in class to the end result. It’s sad, because you can talk about it until you’re blue in the face, but you just have to keep trying. Those are the same students who would rather get the A than learn about why they’re doing something wrong and how to correct it. I wish that I could wave a magic wand to correct this…but that’s life. Hard pill to swallow – not everyone is “into it.”

I have had students who are happy when they find out that there’s not a YP at the end of the semester when we start to review, etc….it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, they’re thrilled. Why? BECAUSE IT MAKES THEM WORK. If I told you that you didn’t have to do any work for an hour, wouldn’t you be happy?? It is always a great reminder that they have to put forth EFFORT in order to IMPROVE. Just like you have to run in PE class to improve your time in the mile. It won’t happen if you’re sitting on the sidelines.

I think that the biggest benefit on my end is that the students are taking ownership of their learning and working to improve, but I get one-on-one time with my students EVERY DAY. It may be for just a few seconds, but I can give them INSTANT feedback on what they’re doing well and what they need to do to improve, and they know that I’m there to help them.

Comments/Questions? Leave them below! I would love to hear from you!⬇️

¡Sí Se Puede! …Part 2

If you read Part 1…you’ll see that I’m continuing here with more explanations of how this works in my class. As with any class routine, we have to first establish policies and procedures. I’ll be honest: it looks a little bit like “organized chaos” in my classroom. As a total control freak, I have had to accept this and move forward, reminding myself that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks of this system. Students know that there are consequences for behaviors in my class, and that I respect their space and ability to practice time management.

Since I firmly believed that I needed to make this work in order to hear my students speaking Spanish more often, I really had to shift the way that my classroom was running. It’s not perfect, but it works for me…until I’m ready to change it again! Here’s what happened:

I developed a template for the Yo Puedo, so that I could modify it unit-by-unit. Remember, if you read my post ¡Sí Se Puede!…Part 1, you’d see the category breakdown that I used for each unit. My class grades run on weighted categories, consisting of daily work, tests/quizzes, and the semester exam. The Yo Puedo became a part of the daily work category, and is typically about 45-55 points, depending on the unit. That would be the equivalent to 5-6 10-point assignments (homework, anyone??) so skipping it would really NOT be an option for any kid looking to pass my class. I’ll get to that a little later.

Each box of my Yo Puedo is worth 5 points. That means that if a kid can name 5 fruits/veggies, for example, they will earn 5 points. They will lose points, however, if they cannot name 5, or do not pronounce them correctly. They will also lose points if they can’t tell me the correct answer to a little pop quiz that I give them after they name the 5 fruits/veggies. It would look a little something like this:
Student: las uvas, la banana, las fresas, el coco, la piña.
Me: ¡Muy bien! ¿Cómo se dice ‘grapes’ en español?
Student: las uvas
Me: ¡Excelente! *writes a 5 in the fruits/veggies box and stamps it*
Student either goes to the end of the line or back to seat.

Every once in a while, I’ll find a student has only memorized the list and doesn’t pay attention to the translations…so they would get a 4/5 in the box. If they’re really struggling with pronunciation, I’ll simply flip their paper over and help them sound it out to practice. Either way, or in any scenario, if a kid loses points for something, they ALWAYS have a chance to practice, practice, practice, then come back and try again. In my opinion, that’s the whole point – we want them to be able to do it (YO PUEDO = I CAN) and it’s all about the learning!

As far as class procedure/routine set up…here’s what I did:
On the first day of a new unit (usually…or the next day) I would give students the Yo Puedo to set the goals for what they’ll be learning about. I would tell them to stay away from the grammar on the first couple of days, until we have a chance to cover it in class. We’ll go through our normal class activities, and then I would budget the last 10 minutes of class for them to work on the Yo Puedo. It was NEVER assigned as homework. They had 2 options during these 10 minutes: stay at your seat and practice with a partner or solo; stand in line and practice while you wait. Their goal was to try to get 1 box checked off by the end of each class period until the day of the test (MOST were usually done by this time, but a few “usual suspects” were always waiting until the last minute to get it done)
High school schedules are always hectic – assemblies, schedule changes for this & that…so I just had to go with the flow – and so did my students. If, for some reason, they didn’t have the 10 minutes one day, I’d make up for it the next. Time ran out and we only had 4 minutes to work on them today = OK clase! Lo siento, más tiempo mañana para trabajar en Yo Puedo!(and I would have to make sure that this happened, so that they felt like I was supporting them in this effort and we didn’t get behind. The worst is when I’m out a day or two for something (life happens! Conferences, meetings, and sick children!) and I would really have to be flexible with my planning so that they stayed on track.

Every day on my board, I list the daily activities and at the bottom I have a section that says YO PUEDO: and I fill in the daily task that I think they should be able to accomplish by the end of the hour. Is that the one that they always focus on? Not necessarily. Remember, they have review items from previous units and culture pieces to investigate…so they might save the “new” topics for the next day…but in my mind, after the daily activities, they are prepped for it enough that they can move forward.

Check out ¡Sí Se Puede!…Part 3 for the benefits and drawbacks of Yo Puedo.

¿Questions/Comments? Leave them below! ⬇️

¡Sí, Se Puede! …Part 1

As a Spanish teacher for over 15 (!) years now, I have often struggled with the lack of motivation that my students have had when it comes to speaking and using the language. As any language teacher, I LOVE hearing my students speak Spanish. We spend a lot of time in my classroom building community, I praise them for their efforts, but at the end of the day (or at the end of the class period), there are 30+ of them and 1 of me…and I struggled with the desire to hear them speak Spanish more and speak with purpose.

From that frustration, the Yo Puedo was born.

Here’s what happened: I had to start small. I also decided to do this after attending the Michigan World Language Conference (MiWLA) – because that’s when my creative juices get flowing and I start thinking about how I can find new ways to encourage my students to speak. I mean, after all – isn’t that why they’re learning another language? Who wants to fly to Spain and write down what they need to say to someone?

I began by looking at my Spanish 1 units. I looked at what I was teaching in each unit and asked myself what the goals were for each unit. This happened years ago when the shift began with admin asking teachers what their unit goals were and requiring “I can” statements to be posted in classrooms daily.

I decided that in order to get my students speaking more, I had to require it. Bye bye, random participation grade! It never really made sense to me anyway…seemed more like students were getting credit for not disrupting class and saying a word here and there. It just wasn’t enough in my book.

I made 4 categories based on what I wanted to accomplish every unit: vocabulary, grammar, review (recycling the old stuff back in!) and culture. I had to ensure that students weren’t forgetting the previous topics while learning new. I also wanted them to be motivated to find culture pieces on their own and report back to me about what they found. Most of all, I wanted to hear them speaking EVERY DAY. This required a daily routine shift!

I set the Yo Puedo up with 3-4 boxes per topic (vocab, grammar, review & culture). Inside each box, I started each with “I can…” and finished with what I thought was an appropriate statement about what I wanted for each task. I tried to let the students have choice when possible. That gives them ownership of what they’re learning. Here are some examples of each category:

VOCABULARIO: Let me start by saying that I give vocab lists. Some people love it, others hate it…whatever! So, I look at each type of vocabulary that I have, and create 3-4 tasks for vocabulary. For example, in a food/restaurant unit, I would make 3 or 4 boxes: 1. I can list at least 5 fruits/veggies. 2. I can list at least 5 drinks. 3. I can name at least 4 things/people that you’d find in a restaurant (menu, server, table, napkin, etc.) Notice that students have a huge list of words to choose from, but I’m giving them a choice of what to present to me. Also notice that I say “at least”…I don’t want to limit them – they can exceed my expectations any day! 🙂 The “Vocabulary” section of my Yo Puedo is by far the “easiest” section…but in a new unit, I want to build their confidence and encourage them to work harder to put this vocabulary to work for them…building blocks to sentence form! Also – muy importante – I need to hear how they’re pronouncing words…something that you can’t catch in a whole class activity!

GRAMÁTICA: Time to build sentences! This is (en mi opinión) the most fun section – because it’s where everything comes to life! I will look at a unit and ask myself “What do I want my students to be able to SAY/TALK ABOUT by the end of this unit?”…and that’s what goes in my grammar boxes. For example, we’ll stick with the food/restaurant unit again…1. I can order food & drink from a waiter in a restaurant. 2. I can talk about how my food tastes (we talk about es vs. está with food taste & temp in this unit…) 3. I can talk about what I eat and drink regularly (practicing verb conjugations – yo como, yo bebo…etc) 4. I can ask questions as if I am a waiter in a restaurant. The list goes on! I would probably stick to 3-4 of these per unit.
Think about what type of grammatical structures you’re teaching for the unit, and put them to work for you in the unit Yo Puedo.

REPASO: This is the section for review. It’s important for students to build upon what they already know/learned, so bringing that back will remind them of how far they’ve come and continue to keep that grammar/vocabulary alive. Look back at some of the grammar/vocabulary that you have covered in previous units, and bring it back again.
One topic that I reviewed for the entire school year is Spanish-speaking countries, capitals, and their location on a map. I alternated between countries & map and countries & capitals. This is a huge struggle for students at first, but so important – I strongly believe that students must know and be aware of their surroundings, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. There are SO many things that you can connect to this knowledge: what types of foods are popular in these countries, landmarks such as Machu Picchu, Easter Island, etc….the list goes on!

CULTURA: Finally, a little culture piece or two for the unit! This can be tricky. I want students to complete this section (and ONLY this section) in English…I’d rather not have them Google Translate a bunch of stuff that they don’t understand in order to communicate with me 🙂
I will give 1-2 boxes of cultural pieces in each unit. These may or may not connect directly with what we’re studying…although I usually have 1 that will…This is a chance to give them cultural exposure to the Spanish-speaking world. Explain who Roberto Clemente was, where he was from, how he died (what was he doing??) and why he’s important. Who are César Chávez and Dolores Huerta? Where were they from? What did they do that was important – who were they fighting for? Knowledge is power!

Want to read more about the Yo Puedo and how it works in my classroom? Read Yo Puedo – Part 2.
Questions or comments? Leave them below!

Target Run, Anyone?!

Target has already started supplying their shelves with Back to School ideas, and while it doesn’t make me happy to start thinking about it…we’re getting closer and closer and I don’t want to wait until it’s too late!

Check out the awesome ¡Notas para el Almuerzo! by Sharona Saltzman. One set has jokes and facts, the other has curious questions and things to make you smile. How cool is this? I’m thinking these could either be an activity for a “fast finisher” or a daily task for upper-level kids to read and decipher! Maybe stick one in their mailboxes every day? There are 101 notes per pack! These notes are $4.99 and available here.

What would you do with these notes? Share your ideas by commenting below!


Welcome to my blog! This is a new journey for me; I have been a Spanish teacher for 15 years and decided that it’s time to start sharing things that have worked in my classroom with you! Please read, share, comment – I am committed to being a lifelong learner and would love to hear what you think!