Jorge needs a job

Here is a story and reading to be used in an upper level Spanish class and possibly adapted for lower levels.  As I’ve mentioned before, I much prefer to focus on compelling input and allow that to drive the development of new structures.  However, coordinating with a university course for dual enrollment requires that I take a bit more of a thematic focus.  The following materials are based on the theme of finding employment.

You will notice that the actual text of the story script is short and simple.  This script intentionally involves students in creating the story.  The reading also leaves room for student input.


Story script (present) – El hombre busca empleo

PQA slides (used before and during story script) – El hombre busca empleo PQA

Reading (past) – Jorge buscó empleo


Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Story Scripts | 1 Comment

10 Tips to Increase Reading Engagement

Reading is essential to language proficiency growth.

However, reading activities are pointless if students do not engage and actually read the text.  So, how do we get our students to engage with a text?  This can be especially difficult as the school year drags on for students who dislike reading in any language.  As I was recently considering an upcoming reading task and ways to ensure that students would engage in the reading, I reviewed several methods I’ve used in the past.  I’ll share some tips below.  The first 4 are general strategies that should guide the later activities described, which are more practical.

1. Get students to buy into the importance of reading: Constantly remind students that everything you do, especially reading, leads to better proficiency, which is the ultimate goal and what will be assessed.  Unfortunately, such buy-in is very difficult to achieve and maintain throughout the year.

2. Vary reading activities: Use different types of activities and methods every time your students read.  Several of the techniques  below help with variation.

3. Be sure the reading is comprehensible: Nothing causes a student to disengage faster than an incomprehensible text.  Use embedded readings, thorough vocabulary preparation etc. to ensure comprehensibility.

4. Read engaging materials: This is probably the most valuable tip to ensure that students are actually reading.  Give them something they will want to read.  It can be funny, current, relevant, personal, cultural or suspenseful.  It must be interesting.

5. Read aloud to the students: Read slowly, with inflection and sound effects.  Watch students to be sure they are reading along.  Stop to ask comprehension check questions of random students or make gestures.  Ask for a translation of a simple term just to shake students from drifting off.

6. Include comprehension questions:  There are two types – questions used as an assessment and questions used to guide reading.  Questions for assessment are obviously used to evaluate a student’s ability to comprehend a text.  More often, I use questions to guide reading.  The act of reading the test and the input gained is more valuable than an assessment.  So, the role of the questions is to force the student to keep reading.  These questions can be based on small details.

7. Ask comprehension questions after reading: Give students a text and tell them they will be responsible for proving comprehension on a short quiz afterward (How old-fashioned is that?).  Read the text aloud, in pairs or silently.  Take the text back from them and give them the questions.   Because these questions are answered without the text, they should not be based on small details.

8. Require students to create something based on the test:  Underline certain parts and instruct students to represent them in drawing.  Ask students to write a new ending, change a part or write from the point of view of a secondary character.

9. Read silently: If you’re accustomed to reading aloud, change things up a bit and ask students to read individually and silently.  You’ll be surprised at how well they focus.  Each student can read at his/her own pace.

10. Utilize various media:  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like reading to students if it’s on the screen and not on a paper.  Project a text on a smart board or share a presentation to computers from which students can read.

What else?


Posted in Reading, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Juan está harto de leer los libros

Here’s a story to be asked in class.

Juan está harto de leer los libros

Key structures:

  • ha leído un montón de libros – s/he has read a ton of books
  • está harto(a) de – s/he is sick and tired of
  • apúrate – hurry

For non-Spanish speakers, it’s a story about two boys who are sick and tired of their boring lives.  Juan has read a ton of books, but he’s sick of reading books and wants to go on a real adventure.  Pedro has seen a ton of movies, but he’s sick of movies and wants to go on an adventure as well.  They decide to rob a bank.

Juan enters a bank, and Pedro waits in the getaway car.  Juan tries to rob the bank, but the teller laughs at him for not having a pistol and tells him to leave.

Juan finds a banana in the car and re-enters to try again.  This time, everyone in the bank laughs at him, and he is told to leave.  He goes back to the car and finds a dead fish (or whatever silly prop you have).  He enters the bank for a third time but gets lucky because the teller is scared of fish.  She gives him the money, and Juan and Pedro drive off.  The police catch them and throw them in jail.  At the end, Juan is sick of jail and wishes he could be reading books.

Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Zaption is a site that allows you to add content to existing videos from Youtube or other sources.  I’ve tried it a couple times in class so far and been very pleased with the results.  I love the ease of use of Zaption.  It does not take long to put together a video with extra text slides and questions and get it out to your students.

Here is a Zaption video about Christmas in Spain I made for students to complete.  It is based on two videos.

La Navidad en España


Posted in Authentic Resources, Listening, Substitute activities, Technology | 1 Comment



We recently completed a short unit based on the events in Iguala, Mexico and the students from Ayotzinapa.  Below is a link to a shared file, which contains a reading and several other resources.  Adapt and use as you’d like.  This topic is so large, current and constantly evolving that every Spanish teacher’s approach will be different.

Ayotzinapa File

Some of the files are source documents with links to various resources.

The two resources we used as a focus were Ayotzinapa info + Embedded Reading and Ayotzinapa reading + vocabulary.

There are also some great resources at this page also.


Posted in Authentic Resources, Current Events, Embedded Reading | 1 Comment

Unannounced Assessment Poster

All of my assessments are unannounced.  I am a passionate supporter of the value of proficiency assessments given at any time without warning.  My assessments take on many forms – reading and answering questions, listening and answering questions, writing an essay or story, translating sentences, defining terms, live or phone interviews – and are never exactly the same as the previous assessment.  I always prepare myself to defend my position against any opposition, but there has been very little opposition over the years.  Most students, parents and administrators understand the point and agree with the policy.  I do my best to explain it clearly at the beginning of the year.  Also, most students feel well-prepared for the assessments and are more successful than if I were to give them long grammar tests preceded by study guides.

However despite my explanations and passion, I do sometimes get complaints from students, typically from students who are new to my class.  They’ll say

Why didn’t you tell us we were going to have a test? 

I feel like I often stumble through the answer and do not take advantage of the opportunity to reinforce why I do what I do.  Thus, I created the following sign to be hung in the classroom.  Now when I get a question about unannounced assessments, I can kindly refer the student to the sign or read it aloud for everyone to be reminded of the system.

Link to sign: Unannounced Assessment Poster

Bryan, is it true that ALL of your assessments are unannounced?


What about chapter tests?

What’s a chapter test?

It’s a test that is given at the end of a chapter.

What’s a chapter?

What about semester exams or state tests?

Ok, you got me there.  Students do know about semester exams (dates determined by the district) and exams required by the university for dual enrollment, but I do not consider those to be MY assessments.

Posted in Assessment, Reflections | 3 Comments

Let’s try that again

Based on some recent assessments, I found that many of my students were struggling with using progressive vs. preterite tenses: estaba corriendo (he was running) vs. corrió (he ran).   As with any grammatical hangup, I had three options:

  1. move on and hope it works itself out
  2. use worksheets and activities to make students think more about details
  3. back up and provide more input

Depending on the situation, any of the three could be effective.  In this case, I did not feel that we could move on without better mastery of the concept.  And in my experience, using activities to force students to focus on details tends to only result in temporary improvement.  Thus, I decided to try #3 with just a touch of #2.

I would love to hear other thoughts about what you do when students struggle with a concept.  Here’s what we did.

1. I started with this simple presentation, which includes example sentences of the two forms being used together.  (He WAS SWIMMING when a shark ATE him.) As we viewed the presentation, I provided many reps of the sentences used correctly and a few quick English explanations.

Estaba . . . cuando

2. I distributed phrases from this sheet to students.  Half got sentence starters from page one (on pink paper) and the others got sentence finishes from page two (on white paper).  They did not need to create or translate the sentences.  I had already done the hard work  They formed pairs by finding anyone with a different colored paper, put their papers together to form a sentence and spent a minute deciding how they would act it out.

Estaba . . . cuando match and act

3. Pairs came up in front of class while I read their sentences and did some questioning.  Again, students only had to act, and I did all the talking.

4. One student was a photographer and took pictures of each pair at the moment in which the ongoing action was interrupted.

5. I displayed the photos and provided more input as we talked about them.

6. I distributed this sheet to pairs of students and asked them to create a few of their own sentences.  Each group was creating sentences about what happened in a specific place.  This was their first output activity after much input.

write/draw places: estaba . . . cuando

7. Groups traded papers and drew the scene that was described in the paper they received.  For example:

   At the beach

A woman was running when a dog ate her. 

A shark was swimming when a boy yelled “Run!”

 I think it helped.  We’ll see. It was certainly engaging.



Posted in Classroom activities, Reflections | Leave a comment

Sangre Americana



We recently completed an embedded reading with the song “Sangre Americana” by Bacilos.  It’s an older song (released in 2004) that tells of the mistreatment of indigenous people throughout the Americas and how, despite the efforts of many, their heritage cannot be erased.  It took about 4 days to complete this small unit.  I was pleased with the way students were engaged in the topic, discussions and language use.  If you do not teach Spanish, you may have a similar song in your language.

Here are the documents we used:

Slide Presentation

Embedded Reading


And how we used them:

1. Students listened to the song in pairs and competed to see who could hear and identify the most phrases on a wordle printout.  Unfortunately, I do not have the wordle to share.  Sorry.

2. We used the first few slides of the  presentation to discuss the band Bacilos and what the song might be about.  We talked about the definition of “America” and who is an “American.”

3. We read version 1 of the embedded reading and defined a few vocabulary words that were in the first version.

4. As we read version 1, I projected some questions (on the presentation), and we discussed.

5. We defined the rest of the vocabulary.  Students wrote sentences with the new words.

6. We read version 2 together and discussed.

7. Slide 15 on the presentation contains sentences that students translated to English.  Of course, we made it into a race.

8.  We read version 3 (the complete song) and discussed.

9. We watched this video.  It is not an official video.  It was created by a youtube user with images that fit the song.

 Sangre Americana Video

10.  At the end of the video, there are descriptions of the images and information about the theme of the song.  On the slide presentation, I put screen shots of some of the video and we discussed.

11. Students completed the quiz, which requires them to translate the song and answer some discussion questions in Spanish.  As with all assessment in my classes, the quiz was unannounced.

Posted in Authentic Resources, Embedded Reading, Music | 4 Comments

la luz

No, this is not a post about a song by Juanes.

“La luz” is an integral part of my classes, and I don’t think I’ve ever officially described it. It looks like this:


It’s nothing more than a cheap battery closet light that turns on when pressed.  It hangs in my classroom, and I use it from time to time.   The rule is simple.  When the light is on, no English is permitted – only Spanish.  Speaking English when the light is glowing results in a loss of participation points and a good scolding from the teacher.

When the light is off, we still use the target language almost exclusively, but a slip into English is not penalized.  The light gives us a visible sign to know that we’ve entered a new dimension in which such a slip is a sin.

I know other teachers who raise flags, flip a poster or a use a different gimmick to identify a No-English period.  Awesome.  There are many ways to do it.

Keys to success with your No-English device:

1. Make a spectacle of it: Be silly. Pretend the device has magical powers.  I often start by saying, “Respeta la luz.  La luz te ve.  La luz sabe todo.”  (Respect the light.  The light sees you.  The light knows everything.)  Make a big deal out of No-English time.

2. Respect it yourself: Model perfect obedience to the device.  If the light is on and I am speaking and I need to drop in a quick definition in English, I run over and turn it off.  I quickly define the word and then turn on the light again.  If you start disregarding the device, it loses its power.

3. Be consistent with the penalty/reward: I use to keep track of participation points.  I quickly subtract a point when English is used.  I also like the idea of a reward for nobody using English.  Whatever system you use, be consistent.

4. Do not put students in difficult situations: Use it for retells or talking about the weekend.  Students should be well-prepared to complete the task.  It might be scary at first, but using the device should actually build confidence.  Wow, I can avoid English altogether.  Start with simple tasks and then do more and more.

5. Do not use it every minute of every class of every day: My class always happens in Spanish.  I am doing most of the talking (providing input).  I use the Target Language at or above 90% and students do as well, even when the light is off.  Pressing the light means that now we must all be at 100%.  If you try to institute a 100% TL rule for every minute, it will probably break down and your system will be lost.  Find a gimmick to designate certain times as No-English.  I often comment to my students when they begin to panic about the light, “Relax.  This is only slightly different than what we always do.

Posted in Classroom activities, Communicative Activities, Speaking | 1 Comment

El secreto del director

After months (years?) of looking over Mike Peto’s incredible resources for El Internado, I’ve decided to give it a try.  So far, after about 15 minutes of viewing the actual program, the students are hooked, and I’m loving the opportunities it provides for natural language use and discussion.  The second part of episode 1 includes examples of three very useful phrases in Spanish:

  • se da cuenta – s/he realizes
  • se burla de – s/he makes fun of
  • le muestra – s/he shows him/her

Below is a story I created to be asked in class that provides repetitions of the phrases.  This story does not follow the storyline of El Internado, but it provides extra input on these phrases and some others that are important for comprehension and discussion of episode 1.

El secreto del director

If you don’t teach Spanish or are not using El Internado, the story may still be valuable.  In short, it tells of a school with a very strict director and strictly enforced rules.  Students make fun of the director but never in his presence.  Nobody knows about the director’s very secret life as a ballet dancer in the evenings.  A student stumbles upon a photo online and realizes that it is of the director.  He shows it to a friend who shows it to a friend and so on until someone shows the photo to a teacher from the school who shows it to a class.  The students make fun of the director.  He realizes they have seen his photo, and he runs to his office to hide and cry.  However, he then realizes that a true dancer is proud.  He puts on his skirt, goes to the class and dances in front of the students.  The students realize that ballet is beautiful and the story ends with a touching group hug.


Posted in Stories/Storytelling, Story Scripts | 3 Comments