Teaching Día de los Reyes Magos in Beginning Spanish

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The first few days back to school after winter break are always a struggle. Luckily for us Spanish teachers, Three Kings Day falls on January 6th, right around when many of us are returning to school. I love to teach this one hour lesson during our first week back, as a way to ease students back into “learning mode” while exploring the cultural practices associated with the celebration of Three Kings Day in the Spanish-speaking world. The lesson is designed for beginning Spanish students (I teach mostly 9th graders at the beginning level), who have minimal prior knowledge of this holiday.

First, a Few Notes

I teach the lesson primarily in English, while highlighting key terms in Spanish, although you could easily teach it 100% in the target language. I decided to teach it in English because it allows me to discuss more complex cultural topics and nuances with students in their native language, rather than relying on more simple target-language structures. It also is a soft way for students to get back into the learning mindset, without bombarding them with 100% target language content on their first day back to class after the winter break. Culture is a great way to get students to buy into studying a language, so I want them to really understand and appreciate this holiday! That’s just my reasoning, as I said, the lesson could easily be done in 100% simple Spanish!

This lesson includes religious content. While I taught at a public school and do not value teaching religious content per se, I do value teaching students about other cutlures. Religion and culture are somewhat inseparable. I teach this content in a direct way, encouraging students to view the practice of Reyes Magos as sociologists, who aim to expertly understand the nuances of another culture, not to judge. I encourage students to embrace their own unique cultural and religious backgrounds and opinions, to be cognizant of how these beliefs and practices influence their unique interpretation of the lesson itself!


1. Students will be able to describe why and how Three Kings Day is celebrated in Spain and Latin America.
2. Students will be able to compare and contrast Three Kings Day as celebrated in Spain and Latin America with Christmas as celebrated in the U.S.

Part 1: Access Prior Knowledge

As a way to prime students learning with prior knowledge on the topic, I like to begin the lesson by asking students to write down as much as they can about what they know regarding the Three Kings and their connection to the Christmas story.
  • Students work individually or in pairs/small groups to brainstorm what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. 
  • Encourage students to write in bullet form or draw their responses.
  • Invite students to share what they know about 3 kings, the holiday, etc. (call on students to share verbally to the whole class OR to come up and write an idea on the board OR to share verbally in small groups).
  • You might give them each a sticky note to write on, and post on the board.

Part 2: Presentation of Content

I start presenting new content relating to reyes mags by showing this video of día de reyes magos at Disneyland. This clip is 1 min, 25 seconds. It’s pretty fascinating that Disney has taken this on, starting in 2012. It is absolutely a sign of the Hispanic influence in US culture today.

Next, I deconstruct the term “los reyes magos” by defining the two terms:
  • Reyes = Kings
    • Technically the 3 wise men were not kings, but magi, or scientists from the East (think Asia) who came to Jerusalem to welcome the baby Jesus.
  • Magos = “Magi” = Magicians = Apothicarians (scientists or astronomers)
    • In ancient times, scientistis, astronomers, and magicians would have been somewhat synonymous. These were “wise men” who studied the stars.

Then we go through and discuss reyes magos in terms of when, where, why, and what. I have students take notes on a graphic organizer like this. You could also have students create mind maps or knowledge webs, keep their own notes in their own preferred format, or treat it as an open discussion with no note taking needed.

When: Celebrations start the night of Jan 5th and proceed on Jan 6th, which is Epiphany.

Where: Where is it celebrated?
Really, el día de los reyes magos is celebrated all over the world, anywhere that people chose to celebrate it. Predominantly it is celebrated in the dark blue regions as well as the US (where it is becoming increasingly popular due to Hispanic culture in the US).

Why? Here we focus on the history and philosophy behind the holiday. It is rooted in the Catholic tradition of the Christmas story. The kings were astronomers, who studied the stars. They followed the star of Bethlehem to the site where baby Jesus was born. They believed Jesus was the son of God. They brought him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

What? What happens during this celebration?  We highlight 6 key terms in this lesson:
  • Desfiles: Parades happen on the night of Jan 5.
  • Zapatos en la ventana: Children leave out their shoes to be filled by the wise men when they visit on the night of the 5 (like stockings for Christmas). Nowadays, like Christmas, the Kings place their gifts under the Christmas tree like Santa does. 
  • El heno para las camellos: Children leave hay for the camels in their shoes, kind of like leaving milk and cookies for Santa.
  • La Rosca de Reyes: This is the Kings Cake. It is often more oval shaped than round, so it can feed the whole party. Candies symbolize the crowns of the kings. The tradition started in 1300s in France, then transitioned to Spain, who transitioned it to Latin America. It is still used in France as part of mardi gras (Fat Tuesday – happens 40 days before Lent, in the spring each year).
  • El muñequito: The rosca has a muñequito hidden somewhere inside (also known as el monito). This refers to baby Jesus – hidden in the cake like Jesus had to be hidden from King Herod in the biblical story. In Spain, whoever finds the baby is “king for the day” and has to pay for next year’s Epiphany party (or roscón). In Mexico, whoever finds it has to bring the tamales for the next party… see next slide.
  • Tamales: According to tradition in Mexico, whoever finds the muñequito is responsible for throwing the party for el día de la candelaría on Feb 2. That person has to bring the tamales. With my smaller and upper level classes, I always bring a rosca and when students agree to take a slice, they agree that whoever gets the muñequito will bring tamales for the class on Feb 2. Excellent tamales are easy to get here in AZ, so it has worked out beautifully in the past.

Part 3: Show What You Learned

With any leftover time, students work individually, in pairs, or small groups to complete a Venn Diagram, comparing Kings Day and Christmas. This is a way for them to summarize what they’ve learned over the lesson. It can also easily be assigned as homework if the other portions of the lesson take longer than expected.

I organize my lesson using a PowerPoint and set of student graphic organizers, to keep me organized, they're for sale in my TpT store, but you can easily make your own. Would love to hear your thoughts on how you might modify this lesson to fit your students' needs and teaching style.

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Glyphs in High School Spanish Class

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What’s a Glyph?

Glyphs have become popular in elementary classrooms as a way for students to practice reading and data visualization skills in a fun way. The idea is that students create their own unique "glyph" or visualization, based on their individual responses to given prompts. Here are some examples of all sorts of glyphs made by elementary students, from Kids Count 1234. 

Haunted House Glyphs by Elementary Students from KidsCount1234.com

Students’ glyphs make an adorable bulletin board and many elementary teachers then use the glyphs to help students practice interpreting data and graphing - as students count student responses for given prompts and then display the results in a graph. I’ve found that glyphs actually have a place middle and high school foreign language classes too.

This turkey glyph slide share is an excellent outline of how students could be guided through the process of making a glyph. It would be super easy to translate this to Spanish, too.

Glyphs in the Foreign Language Classroom

I love using glyphs for foreign language students as a fun but meaningful reading activity, which also can also be used to prompt target language conversation after the glyphs are made. Plus, just like in elementary classrooms, these make a beautiful bulletin board. I’ve enjoyed using them for Día de Muertos, Día de Acción de Gracias, La Navidad, y San Valentín. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but the activity will be relatively easy to put together on your own.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyphs

Glyphs are a great way to give students lots of comprehensible input. They are also fun for holidays as a break for students from our typical instruction patterns. On those crazy school days like Halloween, the day before Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, etc. this is an easy activity that will keep students engaged in the target language but doing something a little more low key and fun. They’d also be a fun extra credit activity, fast finisher activity, or even a substitute teacher activity. To make mine feel less "elementary", I created a full page "legend" which students read through to identify what colors to use on a simple coloring sheet. For the coloring sheet, I found cute black lined clipart that was holiday themed and just added numbers to different sections for students to color.

My Spanish Thanksgiving Glyph Handouts
Glyph "legend"


Interpret Spanish questions and identify appropriate responses that are true for you individually.


Students are given a Spanish language “legend” and a glyph coloring sheet. They read the prompts in the legend and identify which answer(s) are most accurate for them. They then find the corresponding part of the glyph for each prompt #. They use the color that matches their answer to color that section of the glyph. At the end, each student has a unique glyph that visually represents their answers to the prompts.


  • Markers, crayons, and/or colored pencils in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, black
  • Dictionaries or dictionary apps
  • Copies of handouts for each student

* I avoid copying double sided, so students don’t have to flip back and forth between the legend and the glyph coloring sheet.


I take a full class period for this activity, so about 55 minutes. That way students aren't rushed and its a relaxing, fun experience, as I intend it!

STEP 1. I display the vocabulary list, objectives, and directions on my projector throughout the whole activity (but you could also print one for each student). 

STEP 2. Distribute copies of the glyph coloring sheet and legend for each student.

STEP 3. Before letting them start independently, we go over any vocabulary (e.g., “pavo”, “día de acción de gracias”), color words, and instructions.


When I wrote the "legend", I intentionally created some items to say, “use all colors that apply”. This makes the activity a little more fun and complicated. Sometimes there isn't one true answer for the questions you pose, so its nice for students to have more than one option.

I also encourage students to do decorations (polka dots, stars, stripes, etc.) with the colors, rather than just coloring in solid shades, if they want. Look at my pavo example above to see what I mean.

When students finish coloring:

  • Consider sharing students’ glyphs with the class on your document cam.
  • Ask the questions verbally about a given glyph, and have students infer responses about the “artist” based on the colors drawn. Can they guess who’s glyph it is?
  • Consider a subsequent activity in which each student is assigned a classmate’s glyph. Using the legend, they decode the color choices to write sentences describing the “artist”.  They could also present a verbal description of the “artist” in small groups / pairs, or even record a spoken narration describing their assigned “artist”.
  • These make a beautiful bulletin board!

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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish

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Day of the Dead 5 Mini Activities for High School Spanish 

Día de los muertos seems like it is everywhere in pop culture in recent years - skull figurines at Target, in the movies - think James Bond's Spectre scene, and on the fall cookies they sell at Starbucks too. I love teaching a formal cultural lesson on Day of the Dead with my high school Spanish classes, but this holiday is so fun, it also warrants some fun mini activities that would be great for extra credit, homework choice options, etc. Here are 5 of my favorite short Day of the Dead activities for high schoolers:

1. Day of the Dead Me App

Students download the fun, FREE Day of the Dead Me app on their iPhones or iPads and can decorate their own selfies to look like a  Día de Muertos calavera. If you use a class Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account, you might ask students to share their photos and tag your teacher account, or use an original class hashtag, like #CraneCalaveras to see them all together. Here's mine:

2. Explore the Controversy Regarding Disney’s Effort to Trademark “Day of the Dead”

I love pushing students to explore the 2013 controversy, when Disney set forth to trademark the term “Day of the Dead”. With beginning level students, I use authentic English texts like those from CNNThe Flama, LA Times, etc. (lots more via Google search!). I am ok with using English texts because it is a cultural activity and students can get through the material more quickly in English, this is a "mini" activity after all. I've had students work in small groups to read the articles collectively, or each individually, and then summarize together with a jigsaw structure. This activity is especially fun, as the Disney movie Coco is slated to come out next year.

3. Watch “The Book of Life”

This 2014 animated feature is so beautifully done and a great way to informally learn about the holiday in a fun way. Consider offering an extra credit opportunity outside of class for students to watch the movie and submit a 1 paragraph written review of the film. Or offer an after school movie showing in your classroom - make pop corn, move the desks out and lay down blankets, so students can watch the film together. Or if you have time to show the film in class, or even to show the trailer, it could prompt a meaningful discussion about the nature of this holiday, important practices, symbols, and the history.

4. Make a Day of the Dead Glyph

Glyphs are a fun way for students to read in the target language, while creating their own unique “glyph” or symbol that conveys unique information about a given student in a purely visual form. I have students create their own glyph using a simple Day of the Dead image that one of my (artistically gifted!) old students drew for me (see my pic below). They read through the Spanish-language prompts to select the colors that best describe them and then color in their glyph accordingly. These make for a really lovely bulletin board! I’ve also extended the activity on a second and even third day with another "mini" activity - having students work in pairs to interpret their peers’ glyphs. What does your glyph say about you? They then describe their peer in the target language verbally or in writing. I sell these in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, but you can easily make your own versions using simple language prompts!

5. Day of the Dead Word of the Day

For the 10 days leading up to November 1st and 2nd, I highlight a “word of the day” relating to Día de Muertos. For example:
Día alegre
Los angelitos
Pan de muerto
Calaveritas de azúcar
Students are responsible for writing their own definition and/or creating a visual to accompany each term. They can submit these at the end of the 10 days for extra credit or as a graded assignment. This is an easy bell work prompt, fast finisher activity, or way to fill in if you find you have extra time in a given class period. I’ve had students get quite creative with these, taking funny photos to depict the words, using creative handwriting to draw out the term, etc. Consider offering even more points or an extra incentive like an award for the most creative submissions, in order to inspire unique work. Have students submit work in a notebook, digitally, through your class' social media page or by using your hashtag, or even have them make larger visuals and use them to create a bulletin board. Lots of possibilities!

How might you modify these activities to work for your students and classrooms? I always love to hear your ideas!

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Teaching Mexican Independence Day through Authentic Mixed Media in Beginning Spanish Class

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Fiestas partrias mexicanas are one of my very favorite holidays to celebrate with students. Maybe its because we live in Arizona so close to the Mexican border, because I typically have so many students of Mexican descent who are interested in the holiday or celebrate at home, or because of the amazing Mexican friends I have who are just so full of patriotic pride and have taught me how to really celebrate a holiday.

Because Mexican Independence falls so early in the school year, I prefer to keep things simple. For my beginning level students, I do a 1 hour lesson, primarily in English, with Authentic Spanish language media that uses simple language structures.


1. Students will be able to describe key events in the Mexican independence movement of the 1800s.
2. Students will be able to describe key parts of the Mexican culture including who the president is, how Independence Day is celebrated, what the zocalo is, and what the cathedral is.
3. Students will be able to listen to a traditional Mariachi song to identify Spanish words they understand in writing and by listening.

Part 1: Pre-Quiz

I use a short quiz to access prior knowledge and engine engagement. We go over the answers immediately after all students finish, as a way to introduce main concepts about the holiday.

Part 2: El Grito Concept Map

I show a Youtube clip of this year’s “El Grito”. Here’s the 2015 version. Then students fill in the notes on their concept maps as we discuss what they saw.

We talk about Pena Nieto and some of the controversy surrounding him. In early 2015, his wife Angelica Rivera came under scrutiny for a series of real estate holdings in another name that were linked to conflicts of interest on the part of Pena Nieto. He was absolved in August 2015, but this scandal was a blow to his public perception. We also talk about the drug war, cartel violence, and slow economic growth that are currently frustrating many mexicans. Lots of current issues!

Part 3: Viva México Song Activity

Once concept maps are complete, students listen to one of my favorite mariachi songs, “Viva México”, through Youtube. They listen through several times to identify simple Spanish words they hear. I do cloze activities throughout the year with my beginning students, and this is the first one, so I keep it simple!

Part 4: History of the Independence Movement Reading Activity

With any leftover time students work independently or in small groups to complete a simple reading activity. This is a summative assessment of sorts, wrapping up their understanding of the holiday. I love doing this part last because if we run out of time, it can easily be assigned for homework.

I organize my whole lesson using a Powerpoint and a packet of student handouts, just to keep me on track.

How do you celebrate Mexican Independence day with beginning students?

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Pacing ¡Avancemos! 1 for High School Spanish

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I love the ¡Avancemos! curriculum for both books 1 and 2. I was fortunate to teach with that curriculum for 5 years and over time developed a pacing guide that worked for me. I’m happy to share that with you all, just click on this link to download the pacing guide for free.


This pacing is what has worked for me at a large Title 1 public high school in Arizona, USA, with class sizes of 35 – 40 students, on 55-minute daily class meetings. My pacing is for a first year Spanish class (novice level), with predominantly 9th grade students. I hope you can use it to inspire your own planning. 


I try to offer different summative assessment options each chapter – a mix of quizzes and tests (which incorporate a reading, writing, and listening), as well as projects (which incorporate interpersonal and presentational speaking, listening, and writing). Personally,  prefer speaking assessments at this level to be formative and informal. The only summative speaking assessments I use are in the midterm and final exams.

A Note on Pacing

As a new teacher, I remember getting wrapped up in the "how much do I need to get through" issue, and more recently have really changed my thinking on that. I would argue that we should take our time to be sure that our students meet our learning goals, acknowledging that pacing will be different for each teacher and each class. I absolutely believe it's great to have rough guidelines and to keep the class feeling like you're moving forward, not just regurgitating the same concepts over and over, but also, I don't ever want students to feel rushed or pressured to memorize just for the test, like they're racing through the class only to retain nothing. It is a fine balance!

Would love to hear your thoughts and details on how you pace the ¡Avancemos! Book 1 text for beginning students.

Note that this pacing guide and any of my resources relating to the Avancemos textbook are my own original ideas and materials. They have in no way been reviewed or endorsed by HMHCO.
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Incorporating a Frase de la Semana in the Spanish Classroom

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Incorporating a Frase de la Semana is a great way to introduce students to fun, useful Spanish terms that they may not get much exposure to otherwise. 

Over the last two years, I’ve slowly collected my favorite colloquialisms, slang terms, and generally useful Spanish phrases and put them into cute posters that I print off to hang in my classroom. Check mine out or you can easily make your own!

Here’s how I incorporate a Frase de la Semana in my Spanish classes:

1. Class challenge

At the start of the week, I introduce the “Frase de la Semana” to my class, practice pronunciation, and go over a few example uses. Students then try to incorporate the phrase into their speaking that week. When we hear each other using it, we yell out an “¡aye, sí!”. I of course try to fit the phrases DRAMATICALLY into my speech throughout the week.

2. Create beautiful bulletin board or word wall

Print out each phrase on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet and post all of them to create a colorful bulletin board where all the Frases are posted. Students will see the terms on a daily basis, reinforcing vocabulary acquisition. Print in color or in black and white on colored card stock.

3. Vocabulary list or flash cards

Print out 16 phrases to a sheet, cut them up, and you have instant flash cards! Give each students a set to keep in their notebooks throughout the year or create sets for small groups of students to use as a quick flash card review activity.

4. Skit prompts

Distribute one or two of your Frase de la Semana flash cards to each student. Students work in pairs (or 3s) to act out a short skit in which they have to use their assigned Frases. Establish a location and relationship between actors. Give students 10 minutes to practice and play with ideas, then select a few or all to share in front of class. No scripts, no writing, just speaking on the fly!

Going Beyond…

You might also consider having students brainstorm a list of Spanish phrases they really wished they knew. Use that list to generate your own unique set of Frases that will be super relevant to your students. Could be fun to have each student take a Frase and create their own mini poster for it.

What other ways have you incorporated a Frase de la Semana into your Spanish curriculum? Would love to hear from you!

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Top 5 Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving in Spanish Class


Welcome to the Fall & Winter Spanish Blog Hop. I'm honored to get to participate with a number of other great Spanish teachers who are all coming together to offer useful ideas for the Spanish classroom as well as some great deals on Teachers Pay Teachers materials. Follow to the end of my post to see links to their blogs so you can follow along!

When half the class is absent that Wednesday before Thanksgiving, what's a teacher to do? I always use this day for a relaxed lesson that emphasizes giving thanks for what we have.

Here are my top 5 ways to celebrate Thanksgiving in Spanish Class. These can be adapted for any level of middle or high school Spanish class!

#5 - Write "Notas de Agradecimiento" en Español

Practice real world Spanish interpersonal writing skills while showing some thanks with a nota de agradecimiento for a favorite teacher.


  • Students will be able to write a simple thank you note in Spanish to express their gratitude to a favorite teacher of their choice.
  • I collect all the thank you notes at the end of the day and leave them in teachers' mailboxes as a special treat.

  • 1 piece of card stock for each student (cut in quarters for a post card OR in halves to be folded like a thank you note) 
  • List of useful thank you phrases (I post on the chalk board)
  • Markers, colored pencils, other decorating materials (glitter and feathers if you dare!)

#4 - Listen to Gracias a la Vida

Explore this beautifully complicated song while practicing interpretive communication skills and learning about the legendary Chilean musician and activist Violeta Parra.


  • Students will be able to interpret the Spanish song Gracias a la Vida.
  • Students will be able to connect the message of Gracias a la Vida to their own lives.
Some Ideas:

  • Students research Violeta Parra (google image search, general internet search, etc.) and share what they've learned. 
  • Students describe the message of the song (in writing or speaking with groups/partners).
  • Students connect the song to what they are personally thankful for (could be a great writing prompt or discussion activity).

#3 - Watch "Que linda manito"

Analyze this powerful short film starring Colombian actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, exploring the immigrant experience. This simple film (part of the films comprising Paris Je T'aime) reminds us of life's struggles and what we should truly be thankful for.  

  • Students will become familiar with the Spanish nursery rhyme "Que linda manito".
  • Students will be able to express the positive and negative parts of the immigrant experience, connecting these ideas to themes depicted in the short film about a Colombian girl living in Paris. 
Here's how I used this activity with my 1st year high school students: Note it of course could be modified to be more/less challenging for other levels: We watched the short film  twice (it is about 5 min long), then students wrote a journal entry of 150+ words (about a page) in English.

Que linda manito
Qué linda manito que tengo yo,
qué linda y blanquita que Dios me dio
Qué lindos ojitos que tengo yo,
qué lindos y negritos que Dios me dio
Qué linda boquita que tengo yo,
qué linda y rojita que Dios me dio
Qué lindas patitas que tengo yo,
qué lindas y gorditas que Dios me dio.

What a pretty hand
What a pretty little hand have I,
How pretty and white this that God gave me.
What pretty little eyes have I,
How pretty and black these that God gave me.
What a pretty little mouth have I,
How pretty and red this that God gave me.
What pretty little feet have I,
How pretty and chubby these that God gave me.


1. How does the scene when the girl sings to her own baby differ from the scene when she sings to the other baby? Discuss how the girl’s behavior differs and how film techniques differ. How do these differences give a window into the girl’s true feelings?

2. The girl is a symbol of the immigrant experience. What hardships does she have to overcome? Would you ever consider immigrating to another place? Discuss the pros and cons of doing so.
3. Over half of the film clip takes place in public transportation (the metro, bus, etc.). What other journeys do you imagine the girl has taken in her life? Discuss how for the girl travel may symbolize both a burden and an opportunity.

  • Journal prompts and paper / computer for writing

#2 - Take Time for Classbuilding

Use this day for relaxed fun and games that use Spanish and help solidify a strong sense of team within your classroom.  

Tasks & Materials: Here are some easy and fun games for building classroom community, many of which use the target language. Each are described in detail in my previous post, Creating Good Vibes in Spanish Class.

  • Celebrities On Your Back Game
  • 4 Corners Activity
  • Gesture Name Game
  • Verdad, Verdad, Verdad, Mentira
  • People Hunts
  • Would You Rather

#1 - Do Some Arts and Crafts

Sometimes even older students need a relaxing day making some good old fashioned turkey art.  

Image from Neil Armstrong Elementary 

Task: "Glyphs" have become a popular way to integrate art and math in elementary classrooms recently. To make a glyph, students are given a key with set prompts that they use to create their own version of an art piece. Turkey glyphs like these are especially cute, make a great bulletin board, and are a great way for students to practice the target language. You can give them a Spanish language key, and students have to interpret the language in order to create their glyph. Check out my Turkey glyph activities for a better idea of how it works. 

And Now for my Sale!

I'm just one of a number of great Spanish teachers offering a special sale on Fall & Winter teaching resources November 1, 2, 3, and 4th, 2015! 
Check out my items, all at 50% off through my Teachers Pay Teachers store

Check out a few of my favorite fall and winter sale items, all at 50% off. Stock up now!

1. Turkey Glyph BUNDLE for Elementary, Beginning, and Intermediate Spanish

2. ALL My Spanish Thanksgiving Resources - Bundle 

3. Christmas Glyphs for Beginning Spanish

4. El Día de los Reyes Magos for Intermediate & Advanced Spanish

My Spanish teacher blogging buddies are offering great deals on their favorite fall and winter resources as well. Check us all out on TPT by searching "#fallwinterspanishsale". Click on the links below to continue on to see our other blog hop participants' ideas for fall and winter in Spanish class. 

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